I have somewhat of a fascination with French bistro cooking, which may have been obvious considering the name of this blog. Perhaps it’s the thought of eating in a cozy little bistro, the idea of getting a homey meal when eating out, or simply that it’s far removed from the perceived glamour of French cooking. It’s likely a combination of all three, and perhaps a little something more.
To me, bistro cooking is really the perfect Sunday lunch. On a rainy day like today, what better to soothe you than a steaming bowl of soup topped with toasted bread and melted cheese? Now, imagine this soup has taken three hours to cook, you’ve deglazed the pan not once, not twice, but three times, and you’ve taken the time to search out imported Swiss Gruyère and a freshly made baguette. Doesn’t this labor of love sound like heaven? Okay, I admit, it’s heaven after the first hour or so. The first hour that the onions are in the oven, my nostrils stung and my eyes watered, and I feared my home would never smell the same.
But after that first hour, as the slices started to turn golden in my oven, a sweet aroma filled the air. As my onions were about to come out of the oven for the first time, both my giddiness and trepidation grew. Would this soup meet my high expectations? Would it be worth the time and effort? At that point, I could still only wonder, and continue to cook.
French Onion Soup*
from America’s Test Kitchen
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
1/2 cup dry sherry
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper
1 small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)
1. For the soup: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Generously spray inside of heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place butter in pot and add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, for 1 hour (onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot. Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook for 1 hour. Stir the onions and scrape the bottom and sides of the pot. Return the pot to the oven and cook until onions are very soft and golden brown, 30 to 45 minutes longer
2. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.) Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in broths, 2 cups water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.
4. For the croutons: While soup simmers, arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in 400-degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
5. To serve: Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyère. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.
*This soup is definitely better the second, or even third day. It’s a wonderful dish to prepare ahead of time, then simply reheat and serve.