As a kid I HATED onions. Absolutely LOATHED them and wouldn't eat them raw, cooked, hidden in foods, etc. Now, as an adult, I LOVE cooking with onions and think they add an amazing flavor to so many dishes (I still won't eat them raw though). It was most likely soupe à l'oignon, (that's fancypants for French onion soup) that changed my mind. I honestly could never imagine why some people hated this soup, until I caved in to a craving jumbled with a bout of laziness and bought a can of condensed French onion soup.
On some recipes, you just CAN'T take shortcuts. For this French onion soup recipe, the onions are slowly caramelized for several hours. However, you only need to check them and stir the pot every hour, so you aren't tethered to the stovetop. It DOES mean that you'll need a good oven-proof pot or Dutch oven though. Though I LOVE my bare cast iron, I highly suggest using an enameled cast iron Dutch oven since the onions WILL form a deep crust (basically concentrated flavor), and it's MUCH easier to deglaze with an enameled pot.
Another key to the soup is having GOOD stock. If you can, use homemade stocks instead of canned. The flavor difference is definitely noticeable. If you MUST purchase stocks, buy a good-quality, low-sodium stock.
French Onion Soup
adapted from Comme Ça via the Los Angeles Times
4 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
8 large yellow onions (about 5 lbs), halved and thinly sliced
2 1/2 - 2 3/4 cups water, divided
2/3 cup dry sherry (substitute brandy or dry white wine)
4 cups (1 quart) chicken stock
4 cups (1 quart) beef stock
8 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf (tie with the thyme)
1 small French baguette, cut into 1/2"-thick slices
16oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 400 degrees. Generously spray the inside of a Dutch oven or oven-proof lidded pot with nonstick cooking spray. I actually forgot to use the spray this time, and didn't have any issues. YMMV though.
These were GOOD, STRONG onions. I cried for like an hour.
I splurged on that cooking sherry. A whopping $2.69.
Place the butter in the pot along with the sliced onions and 1 tsp salt. Don't worry about the pot being "too full" of sliced onions; they will cook down quite a bit. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 hr.
It's a real Le Creuset, and I picked it up for TEN DOLLARS at a junk sale.
Remove the pot from the oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Return the pot to the oven with the Dutch oven lid slightly ajar and cook for another 2 hours, stirring and scraping after each hour.
After 1 hr....
After 2 hours...
After 3 hours...
Stirred. You can see all of the cooked-on flavor from the onions.
Place the pot on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Cook onions, stirring frequently, for 15-20 minutes or until all of the liquid evaporates and the onions caramelize to a deep golden brown. At this point, the onions should be forming a dark crust on the bottom of the pot. That crust? It's not "burnt-on crap"; it's fond and it's DELICIOUS.
Yes, I know it looks gross. Just bear with me...
Add 1/4 cup of water and deglaze, stirring to loosen the crust from the pot. Cook 6-8 minutes or until the water evaporates. Repeat this process 2-3 more times or until the onions are very dark brown.
Deglazing should alleviate any of your "CRAP I JUST RUINED MY POT" fears.
Stir in the sherry and cook for 5 minutes or until the sherry evaporates. Stir in the chicken stock, beef stock and 2 cups of water.
Add the thyme/bay leaf bundle and 1/2 tsp salt. Scrape up any remaining fond from the bottom of the pot, increase the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer.
That lump by the spoon is NOT a potato; it's some of my congealed chicken stock.
I don't use kitchen twine (I don't have any). So I always put any herbs that will have to be fished out in a mesh tea ball.
Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the thyme bundle and season to taste with salt and pepper.
I know, I know. Still looks gross. Sorry.
Meanwhile, toast the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven for 8-10 minutes (flip them halfway through cooking) or until the slices are dry, crisp and golden around the edges.
I prefer really skinny baguettes since more slices will sit in the bowl. It's easier to eat than one huge slice.
Basically, you're trying to make stale bread.
To serve the soup, move the oven rack 6" from the broiler element and preheat. Fill ovenproof soup crocks to 1/2" from the rim with soup, taking care to distribute the onions evenly between bowls. Top with 1-2 baguette slices (do not overlap the slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyere.
Expensive cheese, in a disposable plastic container. Class.
Ladle in plenty of those caramelized onions...
Top with broth...
Then your little homemade croutons (don't overlap them)...
Don't be stingy with the cheese. It's pricey for a reason!
Place the soup crocks on a baking sheet and broil just until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown (If you're oven is like ours it may take only 1-2 minutes). Cool for 5 minutes, and serve.
Seriously, let it cool down a bit. You don't want to get one of those behind the front 2 teeth pizza cheese blisters. I didn't wait. And yep, CHEESE BLISTERS.