I had an unexpected adventure with French Onion Soup this week. My family and I love French Onion Soup au Gratin. I make it from scratch occasionally, and then I watch the vultures descend. Always with crusty French bread baguette on the side. Here’s how the scenario unfolded: I had made my usual soup from scratch and was having a conversation with a Registered Dietician, and I told her the only carbs you would have to worry about was those essentially from the French bread. Now this lady is very smart, one of the best (actually the best) dieticians I’ve ever met. Still, she didn’t believe me. She was sure that I had to have had more carbs in there than I claimed. (We foodies do get into some strange arguments.) I couldn’t, and still don’t, understand what I was supposed to do to get those carbs in there. Isn’t this soup mostly broth? Then I explained how I made the soup. She had sort of an incredulous look on her face as I described the method. I quipped I could be the Pioneer Lady, but that didn’t go over well. Suddenly, her face lit up, and she said, “I buy that.” So without further adieu, here is my recipe for French Onion Soup au Gratin. Oh, better get yourself some beef bones from your local butcher. I get mine whenever I have a freezer order. It might be easiest to start this the day before you plan to have the soup, to make the broth first.
3-4 pounds beef bones4-6 tablespoons butter or olive oil (butter is more authentic), divided
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence, or similar blend
1-2 pounds yellow onions, depending on how “onion-y” you want it
Salt to taste
Small rounds of toasted, 1/2-inch, sliced French bread baguette or croutonsSeveral slices of either mozzarella or Swiss cheese, whichever you like better1-2 baguettes
I use 2 large pots when I do this, so that the bones can sauté in an uncrowded manner. Yes, you heard me right, sauté. Divvy up your bones in half, one half per pot. Put just enough butter or oil to keep them from sticking, and sauté until bones turn brown, turning to keep browning on the sides. Now, you can skip the sautéing, but you won’t have as good flavor, which is what we’re after here.
Once the bones are browned, fill the pot with water. Add one bay leaf per pot, and 1 teaspoon of the herbs de Provence per pot. Simmer for about 2 hours, then cool and remove the bones. Discard the bones, or I let my dog have some, she loves to carry a few around. I only give her the round ones. As a real gourmet treat, you can also scoop out the marrow and serve later on toast, a very British thing to do (these are the folks who invented marrow forks or spoons). Not for everyone though. You now have beef broth. It is best to let the broth later cool in the fridge to the point where you can then skim off the extra hardened fat on top. Discard.
Now for the soup proper. Thinly slice your onions in a food processor (really, you don’t want to slice all these onions by hand, unless you wear goggles). Even the food processor produces a product we affectionately call onion gas. Quite potent, and yes, your house will smell like onions. Sauté the onions slowly in about 2 tablespoons butter or so, but make sure you keep them from sticking, until they are golden brown and caramelized. Add your broth (about 1 pot's worth should work here), and salt to taste. Bring to a boil. If you have the little soup crocks (see photo), by all means, drag them out and use them. Otherwise, deep heatproof soup bowls should work. Divvy up the soup/onion mixture into the bowls/crocks, float a toasted bread slice or 3 to 4 large croutons on top, and then top with a slice of cheese. The bread or croutons help to hold up the cheese. It’s best to put the bowls/crock on a very heavy-duty baking sheet, because you’re going to stick the whole thing under the broiler until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Watch them like a hawk, because it can brown and burn quickly. The heavy-duty baking sheet is really important here, as you don’t want a flimsy one that can buckle as you’re putting in and taking out. Serve with chunks of French bread baguette on the side. Voila!
Any leftover plain broth can be frozen, and any leftover soup can be refrigerated and reheated again later. This makes about 6 to 8 bowls of soup.
Special Note: If you really wanted to wow your guests, just before you put the soup in the bowls/crocks, add about one-fourth cup of port (preferred) or Madeira to the soup pot.
Photo by Sue Van Slooten