French Onion Soup

If you are trying to impress me, I’d have to warn you against serving French Onion Soup. I am picky about this soup. It’s one of my favorites, but I’d need 10 hands to count the number of times I’ve been disappointed by it. I used to order French Onion Soup at restaurants whenever I got the chance, forever optimistic that this soup would finally be the perfect French Onion Soup. I was wrong. Always.

The broth would be too watery, the cheese too overpowering. The onions like mush. The bread too doughy, no crust, like white-bread soaked in preparation for a meatloaf. Yuck.

Why then, you may ask, did I keep on ordering it? Well, to be honest, this was before I started cooking, while in college, and I actually gave up my hunt for French Onion Soup rather quickly. When I first moved into my apartment, I tried making it once or twice, recipes from cookbooks which will remain nameless, and was similarly disappointed. Burnt out, I gave up F-O-S altogether.

And then two things happened this Christmas. I was given sharp knives (all the better to slice onions with) and a wonderful cookbook by French Chef Paul Bocuse with a phenomenal Onion Soup recipe. I made it the day after Christmas, after a long ride home from Jim’s (not-so-nice to put it nicely) grandma. I was over-tired and very hungry, and skipped a few steps in the recipe (I measured the stock wrong, forgot to brown some flour in the onions and didn’t toast the bread in the broiler before slicing, but just sliced and threw the bread into my toaster) but what resulted was a perfect French Onion Soup. Between every bite—every, single, bite—Jim and I moaned with pleasure and made googly eyes down into our bowls. I felt like I was on the Food Network, but I didn’t have to wonder whether the orgasmic reaction to the soup was real or not—it was right in front of me. I had fallen in love with a bowl of beef stock, onions, cheese, and bread.

When all was said and done, and the recipe for the perfect French Onion Soup was memorized forever, I had to laugh at how simple it seemed. To take a bad French Onion Soup and make it magnificent, all you really needed to do was put the cheese and bread in the soup, as well as on top, and make sure you buy a good cheese. And good bread. And good bouillon. And hey, grab yourself some good onions while you’re at it. It will be worth it.

French Onion Soup

serves 4-6 // adapted from Paul Bocuse’s Onion Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4 T butter
  • 4 medium onions
  • 1 T flour
  • 4 cups beef bouillon*
  • 1/2 loaf good French Bread, sliced into thick slices and toasted
  • 2 cups (100g) Gruyere cheese, grated
  • Pepper
  • 3 tsp. breadcrumbs

Method:

Melt 2 T of the butter in a large saucepan, add the onions, and brown lightly. Stir in the flour and when it begins to color, add the bouillon, stirring constantly.

Preheat the oven to 400ΒΊF.

In a soup tureen or cast iron pot, place a third of the bread. Sprinkle it with a quarter of the cheese, 2 tsp butter, softened, and a little pepper. Do this for another 1 or 2 layers (depending on how big your bread slices are).

Pour soup into tureen, sprinkle with bread crumbs and the remaining cheese. Place in oven for 20 minutes or until bubbly and browned. Serve with a nice, hoppy beer if you want. Enjoy!

*I used Better than Bouillon brand beef bouillon (say that 5 times fast). It was my first time using it, but I doubt I’ll ever use any other beef bouillon again.

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15 thoughts on “French Onion Soup

  1. I have this problem with risotto, always ordering it and being so disappointed. Glad you got great knives, they make such a difference. I will have to try this version of french onion soup. It is also a favorite of mine.

  2. I like the idea of creating and toasting breadcrumbs! I’ve gotten the rest on my FOS down but have never been satisfied with the bread. Thanks!

  3. brad says:

    good basic recipe, but i find F-O-S (love the anacronym, btw) is always in need of just a quick couple tweaks. i personally add just a sprinkle of instant coffee to my broth as well as some red wine and red wine vinegar. i find a tiny bit of acidity in the broth makes for a fantastic tang to the finished product.

  4. My onion soup two days ago = not so good, so after a quick search at WordPress.com (that’s how I discovered this blog) I’m going to try the Clumsy Cook’s next. This recipe can kind of be categorized as a casserole, no? With the layering of the bread and all?

  5. My wife and I order this whenever we can. So far, no one does it better than the Blue Goose Restaurant in Prosser, WA. We live no where near there any more, but when we pass through, we always stop. My Mom also made it when I was young lining a gutted sour dough “bread bowl” with swiss cheese, and topping it with a toasted piece of the upper crust. She made it well, but it still was not like the Blue Goose in Prosser.

  6. I positively adore french onion soup and also cannot find it made right pretty much anywhere. so I thank you, fellow adore-er, for posting this recipe. YUM.

    and happy new year!

  7. I have to say, I came to this post because of how it was cropped on Tastespotting – the handles of the pot were cropped just so, and it looked as if your soup had devil’s horns. So charming! My mother-in-law craves French onion soup, and frequently has to settle for subpar offerings. I am thrilled to see such a gorgeous recipe that I can make for her. Thanks!

  8. Katerina- Thanks! I’ve been having so much fun with my new knives…I can’t believe I went so long without them!

    Ann- The breadcrumbs made all the difference—giving a little crunch to the top.

    Brad- I’ll have to try the instant coffee sometime, it sounds interesting. πŸ™‚

    Bram- Surprisingly, this soup stayed very soup-like, even with all the bread in it. I really recommend it. Thanks for stopping by!!

    Tigerfish- Happy New Year to you too!

    idiopathogen (love the name)- I will have to stop there when I get to WA (sometime soon hopefully), I’d love to have a great FOS out at a restaurant sometime.

    Thanks Deborah!

    Melissa- you’ll be so happy you have this recipe if you are an adore-er! Happy New Year!

    Tara- That’s so great about the devil horns thing—I didn’t notice until you mentioned it. Cool!

  9. Man, I should start checking your site before I begin cooking… It’s getting a little spooky. This is exactly what I made for dinner last night, from a different recipe, but for the exact same reason. I wanted perfect onion soup! Mine was a bit too salty, but besides that, utterly perfect! Mmmmm… winter πŸ™‚

  10. Just wanted to let you know I made FOS the other night and used a vaiation on your breadcrumb method (mainly because I mis-remembered this post). I cut the french bread into cubes and toasted them– then covered the soup with a generous layer of the cubes, topped with cheese and broiled. It was awesome! Interesting how we both found nirvana through mistakes, eh?

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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