Is there anything more comforting on a cold winter day than soup?? A hearty minestrone, fresh tomato basil, and a good old fashioned chicken soup are all satisfying, but my favorite has always been French Onion. Is it the soup or the crusty melted cheese over a slice of French Bread (or Sourdough) that makes it so delicious?? My best friend from high school, Leah, and I would often order it as opposed to the typical pizza or mozzarella sticks in the budget of the day, and we became quite the critics. I was, after all, half French, my maiden name being Duvall and all.
My Nana, who was 100% Irish, made a delicious version that I recall having bowl after bowl of. It could frequently be found on our Christmas Eve potluck buffet we shared with our neighbors after the vigil mass along with a Caesar Salad, some crusty bread and plenty of grated Swiss Cheese alongside sprinkle in to get the melty, stringy, gooeyness that makes it oh so yummy. A giant pot of it always made it up to ski weekends and greeted us when we came in chilled after a few runs for lunch.
Nashua Country Club, in Nashua NH, where my parents were members for many years, always made a delicious version that my brother Gary and I were particularly fond of. My Nana’s was delicious, but the NCC version had a little extra something … the melted crusty cheese on top helped, of course, but there were some herbs in there that were lacking in Nana’s. As my palate evolved, I identified Rosemary and Thyme…and being 50% French, I would know, right??
Using my Nana’s recipe as the base, I set about trying to tweak it to get to my own perfect recipe that included the flavors of the NCC soup. Just when I thought I had it figured out, which I think the recipe proves, the shoe dropped . . . My parents decided to take the Ancestry tests and when the results came in, we were knocked for a loop. We fully expected to learn that my mother, with her olive complexion and propensity to “change race” rather than simply take on a golden glow when sunbathing, would have some Spanish or North African blood in her, the product of the Spanish Armada. Nope, she came in at 99.9% Irish, completely in keeping with what we understood as the Mahan and Clougherty family history. My father, on the other hand, the 50% French part of me, came in at 11% French and 89% Irish and Northern British Isles. So much for the “French Chef” in me, I’m a mere 5.5% French and pretty much Irish for the lack of further clarification. It’s a good thing I married an Irish guy, so I have the Irish name now. So, contrary to what many of us think, cooking talent is not necessarily simply in our blood, anyone with an interest, commitment and desire can become a superlative cook, like my Irish Nana, who shared her love through her wonderful treats, sweet and savory, and inspired me to develop my own culinary skills, explore my creativity and find joy in the process.
FRENCH ONION SOUP
- Dutch Oven
- Saute Pan
- Food processor (optional)
- 6 TBSP Olive OIl extra virgin
- 6 TBSP Butter
- 20 Cups Onions, sliced 1/4" thick, 8 large onions, combination of yellow & sweet
- 4 Shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 TBSP Garlic, minced (about 4 large or 6 medium cloves)
- 1 1/2 TBSP Sugar
- 1/3 Cup Flour
- 2 TBSP Fresh Rosemary, minced
- 1 TBSP Fresh Thyme, minced
- 2 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce
- 3/4 Cup Cognac (or brandy)
- 1 1/2 Cup White or Red Wine (Chardonnay or Pinot Noir)
- 2 Quarts Beef Stock
- 1 Quart Chicken Stock
- 3 TBSP Better than Bullion BEEF (or 10 Beef bullion cubes)
- 4 Cups Water
- 1 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper freshly ground
- Gruyere Cheese (for serving)
- Sourdough Bread or Baguette (for serving)
- Trim the ends from the onions, cut in half and peel the skins. Slice into 1/4" slices. (You can use a food processor with the wider slice attachment, but I prefer to do by hand with a very sharp knife . . . the time consuming part is the trimming and peeling.)
- Divide the olive oil and butter into a large stock pot and a large saute pan (3 TBSP of each) and heat over medium heat until until the butter is just melted.
- Divide the onions and add to the oil and butter and stir well. Cover and cook until the onions are soft and begin to become golden, stirring frequently to ensure they are not sticking to the bottom of the pans, about 5-7 minutes.
- When the onions are soft and golden, add the shallots, sugar and salt and continue to cook, uncovered, until they become a deep golden brown and are very soft but still have texture, about another 4-5 minutes. Again, scrape the bottom of the pans frequently to ensure they are not burning.
- Transfer the onions in the saute pan to those in the stock pot and add the garlic, rosemary, thyme & black pepper. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. At this point the onions should be a deep brown.
- Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the Worcestershire, Cognac and wine and cook for 2-3 minutes to cook off the alcohol.
- Add the stocks, water and "Better than Bullion" (or cubes if you are using). Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes with lid partially on (half on/half off), stirring occasionally to ensure the onions aren't sticking to bottom of the pot.
- Ladle into onion soup crocks, place a slice of sourdough bread (or baguette if you haven't been on the sourdough kick), top with grated gruyere cheese and place under broiler until the cheese just starts to melt.
- Using a creme brulee torch, brown the melted cheese until it is nice and crusty.
- Enjoy with a nice glass of red wine!
- I find that splitting the onions into 2 pans, the stock pot that you will prepare the whole soup in, and other saute pan, allows the onions to cook faster and more evenly.
- If you’re gluten free, try gluten free flour.
- Good quality stock is readily available at most grocery stores. I like the Kitchen Basics brand or even the Whole Foods 365 brand, but do use Stock and not Broth.
- You can certainly make this and serve the same day and it’s quite delicious, but if you let it sit for a day or two, the flavors will develop even further and it will become richer. Depending on your palate, you may wish to add an additional cup of water ot 2 if you think it has gotten too thick and rich.
- If you’ve been making sourdough bread, a day or two old slice is perfect for your crouton, otherwise you can toast fresh bread or use a slice of baguette.
- I like to use Gruyere for my cheese, grated, piled on top of the crouton and melted under the broiler and finished with a creme brulee torch for that beautiful crunchy crust.
- You can always just toss in a bit of grated cheese, it will melt and become stringy, but you may find it clumps in the bottom of the crock.
- Vegan?? Use margarine (I cringe, but I’ll give you leeway) and skip the cheese.