The first time I made French Onion Soup it was for one of my very first dinner parties. I really wanted to impress these friends, so I decided to give the soup a practice run.
Using a recipe with pictures and step-by-step instructions that I had found in a magazine, I sliced several pounds of onions (stopping every now and then to rinse my burning eyes with cold water). I sautéed and stirred, and patiently waited until the onions were the perfect shade of brown (as shown in the directions), and then let my soup simmer for what seemed like hours.
It was delicious and we polished it off that night. On the afternoon of my dinner party, I repeated the process and that evening, served up perfect bowls of French Onion Soup.
I made that soup often over the years and it was always excellent.
Then one day, to my horror, I couldn't find the recipe. It had been clipped from a magazine, and I couldn't even remember the name of the magazine, I'd had it that long.
I tried other recipes from cookbooks or from online websites, and none of them even came close.
Because French Onion Soup is a family favorite, I was determined to try and recreate the old recipe as best I could. I'm not sure if I've gotten there yet, but I think I'm getting close.
I find the one thing that is never consistent in any of the recipes I've tried, is the length of time they tell you to caramelize the onions. If you don't get that right, you might as well give up.
Just remember this -- low and slow. Good things (not to mention delicious things!) take time.
French Onion Soup
Makes 8-10 servings
3 pounds sweet onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
10 cups beef broth
1 cup dry red wine
French bread, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 package Mozzarella cheese, cut into -inch slices
Melt butter in a large Dutch oven; when melted, stir in onions; cover and cook at low heat until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Remove lid. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Increase heat slightly, and cook onions slowly until brown and caramelized. Stir frequently, scraping up all the brown bits that will form in the center of the pot. Each time, after stirring, spread the onions out in the pot in an even layer, and continue to simmer, making sure they don't burn. Continue cooking slowly and stirring often. This process can take 30-45 minutes or more. You want the onions a deep, rich brown. This is where all your flavor comes from.
When the onions have caramelized, stir in the flour and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Whisk in two cups of beef broth. Simmer for a minute and then stir in wine and remaining beef broth. Note: In experimenting with my soup, I find that I prefer a full-bodied, dry red wine. If you don't have red wine, you can substitute a dry white wine. French Onion Soup can also be made with beer or even brandy.
Cover loosely and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The longer it cooks, the better it tastes.
There are two ways to finish off your soup. If you have the eponymous crocks, ladle soup into the crock until it's about a half-inch from the top. Put a piece of mozzarella cheese on a slice of French bread, and place it on top. Put the crocks on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler for 2-4 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Be careful not to burn the cheese.
Another method, which I love, is to place filled crocks into a large baking pan. Fill the pan with boiling water, until it is about half-way up the sides of the crocks. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. I prefer this method because you are less likely to burn the cheese, and if you made your soup earlier in the day, (it freezes well too!) you can reheat it and finish it at the same time.
If you don't have soup crocks, or are serving French Onion Soup to a crowd, you can still enjoy the toasted bread and cheese.
Slice French bread into 1/2-inch slices and place on a greased baking sheet, about an inch apart. Top each with a slice of mozzarella cheese, and toast under the broiler for two to four minutes, until the cheese has melted and is brown and bubbling. Ladle soup into bowls, and top with a piece of toasted bread and cheese.
January is a great time for soup. Check out Comfort & Joy next week for another yummy soup recipe. Past recipes are available online at http://www.tnonline.com/lifestyle/comfort-and-joy .