Another lovely soup recipe, I seem to be making a lot of soups, but at this time of year we all need something a bit more than a sandwich for lunch, and this has been a favourite of mine since I was little. I’ve had this in a fair few restaurants during the eighties and it was pretty good, but this was blown out of the water a few years ago when the OH and I went for a weekend to Paris and I had a bowl in a bistro that blew me away, and changed my other half’s opinion of onions forever, thank goodness. He’d been most opposed to the majority of onion usage up until this point, so for me this was great news, as I use onions in a lot of my cooking.
So, this soup was amazing, deep in colour, full of soft onions with a delicious cheesy crouton on the top. It was also beefy in taste, something I have learned this morning whilst researching the myriad of recipes on French Onion soup isn’t strictly adhering to the rules. Turns out a “proper” french recipe uses water or chicken stock, not beef stock, hence why I have put the “french” part of the title in brackets, as I am no pretender! A french cook would probably call the soup we had in Paris an imitation, but it was fabulous, and I’m attempting to get as close as I can to that.
There have been onion soups forever, well at least as far back as Roman times according to Wikipedia, the beef stock coming into recipes from about the 1800’s. From what was really peasant food there was a resurgence in the 1960’s, which has never really left us. It might be seen as bit retro, but hey that’s cool these days yeah?
There are also very different opinions on how to cook the onions, from Raymond Blanc cooking his on a high heat and browning pretty quickly, to Jamie Oliver sweating really slowly with a lid on for half an hour, then taking the lid off to let them brown. I’m on the side of sweating them slowly, so this soup took about an hour and half to make.
I made up a massive pan of this, feel free to half the onion, take the stock to about 1200ml and half the garlic and flour(keep everything else the same), it will still feed four generously for lunch. I like to have enough to see us through two days, and I’ve upped the proportion of onion from other recipes I found as there wasn’t enough. Jamie’s english onion soup recipe has a good ratio of onion to stock (and is delicious) but numbers how many onions he uses, and of course they vary a lot in size, so I have given the weight.
1 1/2 kg (3 1/2 lbs) white onions
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, pulped / finely chopped
1 glass white wine (240ml/1 cup)
1 1/2 – 2 litres (7-9 cups) beef stock
2 tablespoons brandy / cognac (optional, really worth it if possible though)
nub of butter /glug of olive oil
salt and pepper
Slices of baguette, or fresh bread, and some gruyere or parmesan to serve.
Half and really finely slice you onions, not across the onion but end to tip.
Heat your oil and butter together, add the onions and turn down to the lowest heat, season well, stir really well, and sweat for half an hour or so, stirring occasionally. You can speed this up by turning up the heat a bit and being present to stir the whole time.
When your onions are soft and almost breaking apart turn the heat up and brown them a little for 5 minutes.
Add three quarters of the stock, and simmer for about half an hour. Check the thickness, and if necessary add the rest. Ten minutes before you want to dish pour in the brandy, don’t boil it from this point.
Have a taste, add a teaspoon of sugar if needed, season, hook out the bay leaves, and place some in a bowl, with toasted bread, some grated gruyere or parmesan(I used a semi-hard spanish cheese), and pop under a grill until the cheese bubbles. I used freshly baked soda bread slices as I was trying out a friend’s recipe, not as light as baguette but still very yummy!
You could use a glass of red wine instead of white according to a lot of the recipes I found.