French onion soup may very well be my favorite food. What's not to love about a rich, luscious broth topped with crusty french bread and a layer of creamy, oozing cheese? It's the type of dish I find myself ordering any time it's on a menu - no matter what the season. Unfortunately, the best I've ever tried was hours away from home at a cozy French bistro in Yountville, California.
Little did I know recreating my favorite restaurant bowl of soup would take 8 pounds of onions, a stream of tears and a dedicated 6 hours to make! Leave it to Thomas Keller, chef and owner of Napa Valley's French Laundry, Bouchon, Ad Hoc and New York's Per Se, to come up with a dish that has home cooks like me justifying this marathon of a process.
Here's how Bouchon's magical bowl of soup is made:
- 8lbs yellow onions
- 8 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1½ tsp all-purpose flour
- 3 qts beef stock
- freshly ground pepper
- sherry wine vinegar
- cheese cloth
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 thyme sprigs
- 12 black peppercorns
- 1 baguette
- extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt
- 6-12 thick slices of aged Comte
Sachet: Cut a piece of cheesecloth about 7 inches square. Place the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme in the center and tie with kitchen twine.
Step 1: Slice the onions lengthwise into ¼ inch pieces. Melt the butter in a large heavy stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and salt and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring every 15 minutes while adjusting the heat to keep mixture bubbling gently. Continue for 1 hour or until the onions have wilted and released a lot of liquid.
- There truly will be a lot of liquid but that's what the next 4 hours are for - to cook it all off. Shortcut option: Ladle out some of the liquid after an hour or two to help the process along.
Step 2: Turn up the heat slightly to reduce the liquid and continue to cook slowly, stirring the onions every 15 minutes for 4 more hours until the onions are caramelized throughout and a deep rich brown.
- The caramelization process is where all the flavor for this soup is built. Be careful not to burn the onions. You can always lower the fire and/or add more liquid if you notice it's cooking too fast.
Step 3: Remove from the heat and retain 1½ cups of the onions for the soup. Transfer the caramelized onions to a 5qt pot. Sift in the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring 2 to 3 minutes.
- I couldn't believe it! You start with 8 lbs of onions and work your way down to a measly 1½ cups? Do not get discouraged, the final product is worth it.
Step 4: Add the beef stock and sachet, bring to a simmer and simmer for about an hour, until the liquid is reduced to 2½ quarts. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a few drops of vinegar. Remove from heat.
Croutons: Preheat the broiler. Cut twelve 3/8-in-thick slices from the baguette and place on a baking sheet. Brush the bread lightly on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place under the broiler and toast the first side until golden brown, then turn and brown the second side. Set aside and leave the broiler on.
Step 5: Return the soup to a simmer. Place 6 flameproof soup tureens with about 1 ½ cups capacity on a baking sheet to catch any spills. Add the hot soup to the tureens, filling them to within ½ in of the tops. Top each serving with 2 croutons and lay the slices of cheese over the croutons so that the cheese overlaps the edges of the tureens by about ½ in. Place the tureens under the broiler for a few minutes, until the cheese bubbles; browns and forms a thick crust.
- Comte, I learned, is the traditional French cheese commonly used to top onion soup. I was more familiar with the Swiss variety, Gruyere, although I swore it was French. If you're looking for a more affordable option, go with the Gruyere, I actually tend to prefer it to the Comte.
Step 6: Eat carefully, the soup will be very hot!
- Bon Appetit!
** Special thanks to Steve for his wonderful photographs. Love a man that's willing to work for food!