French Onion Soup

I was talking to a friend of mine a few weeks ago and he was telling me about having a bowl of French Onion Soup that was really good. He stressed that whenever he ordered French Onion Soup, it was either a little bitter or something else he couldn’t put his finger on, but just not tasty. I have to admit, I have also had many French Onion Soups that were off a little. Of course, I also have had some soups that were excellent.

Try Smitty’s homemade beef broth

So, what is it that makes one French Onion Soup better than another? To me, this soup should be smooth with a slightly sweet taste. There are a lot of chefs who like to use flour to thicken the soup a little. I would rather have it as a broth-style soup with no thickening — but that’s maker’s choice. If you do like a thicker soup and use flour, be careful to stir it in good. Let it all melt in or there could be some lumps and don’t let any stick to the bottom and burn or you will get a bitter flavor. The thing is when you caramelize the onions, you will inevitably get some dark spots on the bottom of the pan. These also can lead to a bitter flavor if the spots burn too much and the flour also can stick to these spots a little easier.

So, what is it that makes one French Onion Soup better than another? To me, this soup should be smooth with a slightly sweet taste.

As for the sweetness, there are as many ways to get the soup sweet as there are recipes. A lot of recipes call for sugar, some use sweet vermouth or white wine, some add balsamic vinegar and others use some combinations of different things. Although I like to use sweet onions or red onions or a combination of the two, even yellow onions when caramelized will sweat their natural sugars out for some sweetness. I’ll also slice and add one or two shallots to the onions. I really like adding the garlic late in the caramelization process because if the garlic does burn it will get extremely bitter. As for my added sweetener, I like to use a cream sherry with no sugar.

The last ingredients we haven’t talked about yet are the stock and the croutons. I always like to use homemade stock. I’ve never really found a store-bought beef stock or broth I like and since it isn’t that hard to make, I’ll make a big batch of stock and demi and freeze it in batches. If you must use store-bought broth, go for the consommé if I you can find it. You can also use chicken or vegetable stock to make it vegetarian.

As for the croutons, a lot of people will use stale bread or toast, but you might as well get some flavor there also. I like to use sliced French bread lightly drizzled with garlic butter and a sprinkle of parsley. Toast them in the oven until golden.

French Onion Soup is a great soup for any time of year, as an appetizer or a lunch. So whether you like it thick or thin or sweet, try French Onion Soup and enjoy.

French Onion Soup
4 sweet or red onions, sliced
6 T butter
2 shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, small diced
28 oz. beef stock
1½ C cream sherry
3 thyme sprigs whole (you can tie them together)
3 bay leaves
¼ bunch parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper
4-6 large Cup-sized croutons
4-6 oz. grated greyer

Melt the butter and sauté the onions and shallots in a large pot on medium heat. Don’t over stir them, especially at the beginning. Let them sit until the bottom layer starts to color and then give them a toss. As the onions get darker, you will want to stir a little more often to avoid burning.

Be sure to stir with a wooden spoon and not metal, especially if using an aluminum pot. This will take a minimum of 30 minutes — probably more. When the onions are nearly all browned, add the garlic and a small pinch of salt. When fully browned, add ¾ C sherry and let reduce to almost a jelly.

Add the stock, bay leaves and thyme and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the rest of the sherry to taste. Remove and discard the thyme and bay leaves, season with salt and pepper as needed and ladle into oven-safe cups.

Prepare the large croutons of sliced French bread seasoned with a small amount of garlic butter and parsley and lightly toasted. Place one crouton on each and cover generously with greyer.

Turn the oven on broil; place the cups on a sheet pan and broil until the cheese is melted and golden. Garnish with chopped parsley.