Few soups get people as misty-eyed as French onion.
Literally and figuratively speaking, for some. Sure, at times I count myself among the many who cry while slicing pounds and pounds of onions. Despite the waterworks, it’s hard to resist the result: a rich, fragrant, deeply colored pot of comfort. The best renditions are so beautiful, they might bring a tear to your eye — at least metaphorically.
French onion soup, an incomparably delicious and heartwarming dish of caramelized onions and hearty beef stock, toasted bread, and grated and grilled Comté cheese, is a national treasure. Its gastronomic roots are in the broths of Ancient Rome, prepared for the first time over 8,000 years ago. The recipe served up in Parisian brasseries – and in the kitchens of lovers of French cuisine everywhere – took shape in the 18th century. We amped up the flavor by using Gruyere and a Truffle Gouda.
Be prepared to put in the work for authentic French Onion soup, but your patience will be rewarded. This recipe is straightforward though time consuming, but if you wanted to save time you could substitute store bought beef bone broth and ⅛ cup of beef demi-glace. I prefer to use oxtail because the gelatinous connective tissue makes the soup rich and luscious. The soup can be made ahead up to step 2 in the soup directions. You’ll also need six sturdy ceramic bowls that may be safely placed under the broiler.
- 2 pounds (1kg) beef oxtail or beef short ribs or a mixture of both (see note)
- 1- 2 tablespoons honey (15 – 30ml)
- 2 medium yellow onions, halved lengthwise
- 2 garlic bulbs, halved crosswise (not cloves)
- 3 carrots, roughly chopped
- 3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- olive oil
- 1 cup dry sherry (8oz or 250ml)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste (30ml)
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (15ml)
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 5 sprigs fresh parsley stems (see note)
- 2 whole cloves
- 5 juniper berries
- 16 cups water (4 quarts or 4 liters)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 pounds medium yellow onions, cut half lengthwise then ¼ inch thick
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup red wine
- ¼ cup cognac or dry sherry
- 1 dry bay leaf
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
- 3 quarts beef broth, preferably homemade
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- 1 baguette loaf, sliced 1/3 inch thick (halved again if you want manageable bites)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 8-10 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
- 3 cups truffle-infused Gruyere or truffle-infused Gouda or truffle-infused or Percorino cheese or a combination Comté cheese with 1 of the aforementioned cheese.
- Preheat oven to 400℉. Spread the bones in a large roasting pan (not glass) and toss with honey. Roast, turning once, until deep brown, about 45 minutes. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over vegetables and add to the browned meat, stir well. Roast until vegetables are browned and tender, about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make a bouquet garni by wrapping parsley, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, juniper berries and peppercorns in a square of cheesecloth. Tie bundle with kitchen twine; set aside.
- Transfer bones and vegetables to a large stockpot and add water; bring to a boil over medium heat. Skim off any foam. Stir in the wine, cognac, tomato paste and bouquet garni. Reduce heat and simmer, occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 3½-4 hours.
- Cover and refrigerate until the fat congeals on the surface, about 8 hours or up to 3 days; removed discard the fat. The stock can be frozen up to 4 months.
- Melt the butter in a 5 quart, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and bay leaves, cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft, about 15 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with brown sugar and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized and deeply browned, about 1-1½ hour longer. Add tablespoons of water as necessary if the onions dry out.
- Add the flour to the onions and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cognac and cook, stirring constantly, until reduced by more than ½, about 2 minutes. Add the beef stock and thyme, salt & pepper and simmer over moderately low heat until reduced to 10 cups, about 35 minutes. Discard the thyme bundle and bay leaves add Worcestershire sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt & pepper.
- For the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350°. Brush the baguette slices with the olive oil, arrange on a baking sheet and toast for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden and crisp.
- Preheat the broiler. Ladle the hot soup into 10 heatproof bowls. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, and float 2-3 baguette toasts in each bowl and sprinkle the cheese on top. Set the bowls on a sturdy baking sheet and broil about 4 inches from the heat source for about 2 minutes, or until the cheese has melted browned. Garnish with thyme serve at immediately.
Use bones that still have good quality meat on them as it will add to the flavor, and bones adds body to the stock. I keep my parsley stems specifically for making stocks and you can use the stems of 1 bunch if you have.