French onion soup is a time-old classic. Similar to classic movies, I’ve seen it redone just about every which way. Just about every spin on it though seems to send the same message – rich, comforting, and warming.
You can make this soup elegant and refined as I’ve seen at Jordan Winery in California. The chef there prepared a small, amuse-bouche version, but with shallots. It was so simple and flavorful and inspired touch of creativity in my own recipe.
I’ve seen it rustic with huge croutons coated in stringy Gruyére cheese piled high atop the soup. I’ve also seen it done in a classic and simple way. Served in a small unassuming crock with a thick, flat layer of browned and melted cheese right over the top. When dug into, a cloud of steam and aroma of savory herbs, spices, and caramelized onions comes forth!
This soup is a bit of both, definitely more on the rustic side. I love the addition of shallots as I think they add a sweetness that enhances the dish. The key with the onions and shallots is to not stir them too often.
In order to get the best and darkest possible browning, you must make sure they stay put long enough to carmelize on all sides. Also, don’t salt until the onions are mostly browned – salt releases water which inhibits the browning process, so it’s best to do this after the browning process has started.
For the stock – I always recommend making your own! Keep it on hand in the freezer, I can typically get about 8 quarts from 1 whole chicken so I always have some on reserve. It’s also so much more economical to buy a whole chicken when you think about all of the meals you can get out of it. Try my chicken salad if you go this route!
Chicken? You may be saying about now because French Onion Soup is classically made with Beef broth/stock. However, I’m using chicken because I typically have it on hand and I find it just as delicious. If you want a little bit extra of that umami meat flavor, add in half a tablespoon of soy sauce (trust me — you’ll love it).
For the cheese, the classic of Gruyére, a sweet, nutty cheese that melts into sublime strands. If you don’t have Gruyére on hand, try a different semi-hard cheese Comté is very similar, just from the French side of the Alps. Manchego is fabulous for melting! Fontal is also a beautiful white cheese, very creamy, and similar to swiss. And of course, there’s always white cheddar. I find that Gruyére has a nice complexity to it and the nuttiness adds something that the others tend to lack (sans Comté which is the closest in relation) – hence why it’s typically the go-to.
Finally – for my croutons, I prefer to use hotdog buns because they never get too hard. The recipe can be found here. Please use whatever type of bread that you prefer, but I do think that the hotdog buns add a nice buttery element. They’re also great for salads and other purposes.
The Recipe (Makes about 2 Quarts or 8 Cups)
2 Tbsp Oil
3 Onions, Thinly Sliced
2 Shallots, thinly sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
6 Cups Chicken Stock
1/2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 Cup Shredded Gruyére Cheese/person, for serving
Salt & Pepper
- Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large dutch oven or pot. Heat on medium heat until the oil shimmers.
- Throw all of the onions and shallots in the pot and let sit for 3 minutes without stirring.
- Stir lightly and again, let sit at medium heat for another 3 minutes.
- Stir lightly again, look for hot spots and if you have any dark spots on the bottom of your pot, turn it slightly. Add in the minced garlic and 1tsp of salt at this stage as well.
- Let sit for another 3 minutes. By now you likely have light brown onions, perhaps some dark brown onions. Stir again and continue this process until all the onions are dark brown (perhaps once or twice more). If you notice any getting too dark, turn the heat setting to medium-low. You will also accumulate a browning on the bottom of your pan (called the fond), which will color and flavor your stock.
- Once the onions and shallots are nicely browned, add in a pinch more salt, all the stock, and Worcestershire sauce. Turn heat to low and let simmer for 30 min – 2 hours.
- While the soup is simmering make the croutons.
- When ready to serve, top with croutons and extra cheese, serve as is or if desired bake in the oven at 375 F for 5 minutes, or place under broiler until golden browned and bubbly.