The first time I had French onion soup was in L’Entracte brasserie on 1 Rue Auber, opposite the Opera Garnier in Paris. I wrote about it here. The last time I ate French onion soup was this weekend, as the rain and wind swept away the promise of fun and relaxation this Easter weekend. Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little. There were ‘glimpses’ (I think is the term they use on the weather report) of sunshine, and I did manage to plant some sweet peas and go on a bike ride.
I did the obligatory Google-search, and read Felicity Cloake’s thoughts on the ‘perfect’ French Onion soup at The Guardian. And as usual, I was kind of put-off by the attitudes some people have towards cooking and eating. Food doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ to perfect. In fact, the more ‘perfect’ it is, the less interesting it becomes. And so my aim here is to convince you that to make the most amazing French onion soup, you don’t need special onions, you don’t need brandy and home-made beef stock and you don’t need half a day for simmering. The soup I made, using a sweep of Google’s best advice, utilised the brown onions I had in the pantry, some cheap white wine and a beef stock pod from the supermarket and it was glorious.
It is true that time is the most important ingredient in making a good French onion soup. The reduction of the onions and then of the fluids is the key to a rich and flavoursome dish. You don’t need 3-4 hours, but you probably won’t get away with less than 1.5 hours. The reason is that the onions need a good long time to caramelise on a low heat and this just takes time. I also advise that you go out of your way and pick up some gruyere cheese. It’s a wonderfully sweet and nutty cheese that deserves a place in this dish.
French Onion Soup Recipe
(serves 2 hungry people)
6 brown and/or red onions (sliced)
1 beef stock pod
sprigs of thyme
half cup of white wine
In 2 table spoons of butter, sweat/brown/saute the onions and a pinch of salt in a large soup pot for about an hour until they are are a deep, rich brown colour. Keep an eye on the onions, don’t let them burn. Add a little water if necessary.
Pour the wine over the onions and then cook most of it off, on a medium heat.
Add about 2 cups of warm water, some thyme leaves and drop in the stock pod.
Simmer for about half an hour, until the soup reduces by half. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
Place pieces of ciabatta toast on top of the soup and cover with finely grated Gruyere cheese. Grill until the cheese is melted.