I remember my first bowl of French Onion Soup. I was 15 years old and in a suburb of Montréal on a school cultural exchange program and I believe it was the last day of our 10 day trip. As you might imagine at that age, the memories that stood out were the existence of teen dance clubs and an indoor swimming pool at the school we were paired with. With regards to food, I am sure they must have fed us Bagels, Smoked Meat, Poutine, their famous fries topped off with cheese curds and gravy or Tourtière, a meat pie. but I don’t actually have another distinct food memory other than this soup. The beef broth was warming and salty, soft and tender onions, and the oozy cheese melted on the toast. But it’s memorable because it was made with love by my Québec Mère as a warm send off to return to Vancouver. She sent the recipe to me, but it is now “temporarily” misplaced in a box of letters somewhere. I will post it if it is unearthed. Merci Maman Thibault!
This recipe is based on the Cook’s Illustrated recipe from their book, The New Best Recipe, which is my go to reference cook book, and one of my favourite cookng shows: America’s Test Kitchen. It appeals to the science nerd in me, as well as loving to learn the most efficient methods to cook. I love all kinds of soup – broths, chowders, purées – and also that in cooking them, it is easy to adjust with what you have on hand.
3 tablespoons olive oil¹
6 medium yellow or red onions (3 lbs), halved, thinly sliced pole to pole
¼ cup White Wine
¼ cup Dry Sherry²
1 carton low- or no-sodium chicken broth (900 mL Canadian/32 oz. US)
1 carton low- or no-sodium beef broth (900 mL Canadian/32 oz. US)
2 cups dry red wine³
2 sprigs fresh parsley
1 spring fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Ground black pepper
Cheese Topped Toasts
1 small baguette , cut into ½-inch slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyère, Swiss or Asiago cheese or a mixture of these (about 2 ½ cups)
For the soup: The recipe in the book gives instructions for browning the onions in a Dutch Oven. While I covet a Le Creuset cast iron Dutch Oven, I make do with my enamel stock pot instead (and it’s much much lighter). I have made it in a stainless steel pot, but don’t recommend a non-stick stock pot as the browning seems to take twice as long. I also enjoy the “active cooking” and being able to stir and see the onions reduce.
- Heat oil on medium-high heat. Cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary.
- Stir in 1/4 cup white wine (or water), scraping pot bottom and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process 2 or 3 x, until onions are very dark brown.
- Stir in sherry and cook until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes. Total browning time will depend on your stove and the pot you are using.
- Stir in broths, wine, 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, stir in balsamic vinegar.While you can serve right away, I actually prefer to let it cool, leave in refrigerator overnight to let all the flavours blend. This soup also freezes well.
For the cheese toasts:
- Arrange baguette slices on baking sheet, top with shredded cheese, toast until melted. Place on top of soup. If I don’t have a baguette, I’ll use regular bread, toast the slices in a toaster then cut into smaller squares (to increase surface area for cheese 😉 ) top with shredded cheese, toast under broiler until melted and add to top of soup.
¹ I have been known to sauté onions with a spoon of the magic bacon grease now and again for extra flavour
² Dry sherry – I usually use Medium Dry or Oloroso; don’t use the Pedro Ximenez as that’s a sweet sherry, more like a port wine
³ Whatever wine you use for cooking is something you should enjoy drinking.