French Onion Soup is a classic that is always in season!
The onion is a humble ingredient that usually serves to provide flavor to other dishes. Soupe a l’Oignon, simply known as French onion soup, elevates this culinary workhorse to star status and makes a luxurious meal for two. Good sweet onions such as Vidalia and Texas Sweet are appearing in markets around this time.
Caramelizing onions is definitely a labor of love. However, the result is well worth it. I use a combination of oil and butter to get the process started. Oil keeps the butter from burning and the butter helps caramelize the onions.
Flavor-wise, there is no substitute for the low-and-slow stovetop method.
I’ve tried numerous ways to speed the caramelizing process, including doing a large batch in a slow cooker and adding a pinch of sugar. The result was brown onions with absolutely NO flavor! I’ve tried salting the onions right away and also not salting the onions until they were done. Both took between 45 minutes to 1 hour to achieve a rich, golden brown color. I now salt the onions after they’ve softened up a bit and focus on their flavor rather than the time it takes to caramelize them.
Caramelized onions freeze well, so you may want to double or triple the onions to have them ready for another meal of this soup or for other recipes.
When working with a large volume of onions, I place a small fan nearby to blow the tear-producing enzymes away from me. You might also try cutting close to your stovetop exhaust fan or near an open window. Refrigerating onions first will slow the production of those enzymes when the onion is cut.
A good quality beef broth or stock is important for French Onion Soup. However, a good chicken broth, vegetable or mushroom broth may be substituted. The splash of white wine at the end is optional. Depending upon the onions used, the result can sometimes be too sweet for my taste. A touch of dry white wine at the end of cooking helps to balance out the flavor.
This luxurious soup is finished with a topping of thick bread slices and melted Gruyere cheese. There are two ways to do this. The first and easiest way is to place the bread slices on a baking sheet, top with the grated cheese, broil for several minutes and serve atop the soup.
The second way is to serve the soup gratinéed or baked in ovenproof bowls. Toast the bread at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes first, turning once. Place the croutons on top of the soup, sprinkle with cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, then broil briefly to brown the cheese.