I have a great friend named Catherine who has forgotten more about food that I will ever learn. Every time Catherine and I discuss food, I learn something new. Catherine shared her thoughts about French Onion Soup with me after she read my post in December. Even though I stand by my method (simply because I’m always building as much flavor into things as I can) Catherine makes a good point that French Onion soup can be the very simplest of menu items to make. Sometimes I can make things too complicated and this is a good corrective for that tendency!
Here are Catherine’s musings:
Now you and I know that Barb is a fantastic cook, and that everything she makes is super. But really you don’t have to go to all the trouble of stock or broth for Onion Soup. As a matter of fact, the French don’t bother with that. First of all, Onion soup is peasant food and where was a peasant going to store the stock? She was lucky to have one pot. So after the French Revolution when the cooks in the manor houses no longer had jobs due to headless owners and all that, the cooks opened restaurants. Usually they served just one thing, such as meat, or omelettes, or dessert, or, you guessed it, soup.
Start with a large pile of onions. Peel and slice and put them in a pot, with a tablespoon or so of butter or oil, and heat stirring often over medium heat until the onions are a dark golden. This can take almost an hour with a lot of onions (which is why the stock.) If this process seems entirely too slow, add a small spoon of sugar to start the carmelisation. Add water to cover, and a sprig or two of thyme if you have it. Let it simmer away for a half hour or two by which time (no pun intended) the liquid should start to be thicker and golden. Add salt, pepper, Worchestershire, and a glass of wine (optional.) Simmer for 10 minutes more.
Place a slice of toasted French bread in the bottom of each serving bowl and gently fill with soup. Sprinkle a generous amount of grated swiss cheese over the bread and place the bowls on a tray under the broiler. It will take about 3 minutes for the cheese to melt and get lightly brown. Watch carefully so cheese does not burn.
Onion soup was often a mainstay for restaurants because, except for the cheese, and you don’t need too much, the cost was practically nothing, the smell of the browning onions is very enticing and everyone likes bread and cheese.
I’m sure that adding a small stone would vastly enhance the flavor of this simple soup! 😉