I love Anne Willan’s book The Country Cooking of France because besides traditional recipes, it’s rich in both explanations and history. For instance, Anne says, “Parisians have tried to hijack French onion soup, but Lyonnais cooks can plausibly claim title to this bistro classic.”
She goes on to say there are two keys to good French onion soup: using pungent yellow onions, and caramelize them to the point that they are almost burned, to achieve more depth of flavor; she added her own personal tip of charring an onion and adding that to contribute even more complex flavor.
Now, as I explained in the recipe below, I browned the onions but didn’t fully caramelize them. Perhaps I’ve had too many sweet Americanized onion soups (likely full of added sugar, because half the time those onions were still crunchy – the sweetness wasn’t coming from the onions, that’s for sure) that I just am not interested in an overly sweet soup. That being said, next time I will make the soup the proper way, as I only have one other container left in my freezer, and I adore French onion soup, so I plan to enjoy it many times this winter.
Gratinée Lyonnaise (French Onion Soup)
adapted from The Country Cooking of France
4 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 yellow onion, halved but not peeled
1 teaspoon sugar
48 ounces beef stock or broth
Croutons made with leftover cheese fondue and half a baguette, sliced 1/2 inch thick
Melt butter in dutch oven/soup pot over low heat. Add sliced onions and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Press a piece of buttered foil down tightly on the onions. Cover the pot and sweat, stirring occasionally, 20-25 minutes or until soft. Remove the lid and foil, raise the heat to medium-high, and continue cooking until the onions are very dark brown and reduced, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. *The recipe said this would take another 8-10 minutes, but never in my life have I seen onions caramelize that quickly; I stopped after 45 minutes when my onions were light brown – it will likely take more time to get the deep brown color the recipe calls for.
Meanwhile, sprinkle the sugar on the onion halves and heat another burner to high. Place the onion halves directly on an electric burner (use a dry frying pan over a high gas flame if you don’t have electric coil burners). Cook until charred, about a minute or two.
Add stock/broth to the browned onions, add charred onion. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer to blend the flavors, about 15 minutes. Remove charred onion and discard. Adjust seasoning as needed.
The soup can be made ahead and refrigerated for 2-3 days. Reheat on stove top.
Line baking sheet with foil. Butter one side of baguette slices, arrange evenly spaced on baking sheet. Place under broiler until golden brown. Flip slices over and top with leftover cheese. Return to broiler until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.
Either set 2-3 croutons in each bowl and top with soup, or ladle soup into bowls and add 2-3 croutons. Serve immediately.