I hesitate to call the soup I made tonight “French onion” because while it A) is a soup that B) contains onions, it deviates from true, honest-to-Voltaire “French” onion soup in a couple of ways that make me just refer to this soup as a savory onion soup. And if you make it, you won’t really care what I call it because you’ll call it one thing only: delicious.
Traditional French onion soup uses clarified beef stock as a base, but seeing as though I happened to have some really dank, dark chicken stock made from a large hen we roasted this weekend…I decided that we could go the chicken route. Stock made from a roasted bird is always darker and richer than stock made from raw chicken, and if reduced, it’s very close to beef stock in the depth of flavor (and even better in this case, since it was homemade). I did squirt one of those beef “flavor booster” packets into the pot just to add some beef flavoring to the mix, but that was more as a shortcut to add some quick and dirty umami flavor to my pot of soup. Also of note: for traditional French onion soup, I usually reduce my stock with red wine. Of course, this isn’t traditional soup, so in this case, I reduced my stock with a bottle of Goose Island Honker’s Ale — which did just fine.
Savory onion soup
- 1 quart chicken (or beef) stock. In this case, I was poaching a leftover roasted chicken to make stock and get the remaining meat ready for a chicken salad. If you want to use the store-bought stuff, buy a couple of boxes of it, add some carrots, celery, onions, and garlic to it along with a cup of red wine and simmer for half an hour. You’ll be fine.
- 2-3 large onions. Cut these from stem to root.
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Fresh black pepper
- Kosher salt
- Bouquet garni — bundle up some thyme, parsley, and bay leaves in a cheese cloth or coffee filter.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- Sourdough bread (VERY important)
- Gruyere, Swiss, or other delicious nutty cheese
In the same cast iron skillet I tell you to use for nearly everything I post, heat three tablespoons of oil. I like to use olive oil for this, because I think it gives the onions a nice flavor, but canola or any other neutral oil is fine. Throw your onions in the skillet and get alarmed by how high they are piled up. Now stop worrying, because these bad boys are going to reduce down quite a bit. Cook the onions on medium-high heat for 30-45 minutes, stirring every few minutes so that the onions get brown but not burned. If you want to add a tablespoon of sugar to this process, feel free — it adds some nice flavor.
Once you’ve caramelized your onions, toss them in the stock with a little salt, pepper, the vinegar, and the bouquet garni and simmer for 20 minutes. Don’t go crazy with the salt — the soup will reduce some, concentrating whatever salt is present. Cream the flour and butter together to make a beurre manié, stir into the pot. Simmer for another few minutes, mostly until the butter/flour mixture dissolves to thicken your soup and add a luscious level of flavor to the proceedings.
Make some toast with the bread and cheese; put it under the broiler and cook the hell out of it. Float a piece of the toast in the soup, and enjoy your not-quite-French onion soup. Happy cooking!