One of the few good things to come out of this frigid winter weather is that I keep coming across great French onion soup. I’ve had it at Smith’s in Cohoes, The Wishing Well in Wilton and recently Mom made a pot of it. All of it was very good, which inspired me to make it myself.
It takes some time, and I started early in the day. But in the way of all good soups, once everything is in the pot it can simmer on its own with only an occasional stir.
Here is my mother’s recipe, which uses Gravy Master, the wonder ingredient from Canajoharie. When we talked about this recipe, she said she deviated from it in a few small ways, and you can, too, without losing the essence of it. I swapped out 1 tablespoon of the Gravy Master for a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and had more than a half cup of leftover red wine, so I tipped it all in.
The onions and the broth are non-negotiable; use yellow cooking onions and unsalted beef broth. And don’t add the salt until the end of the cooking. I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt.
Also, I found I needed the whole stick of butter to cook down all those onions, but blotted the finished broth with paper towels to remove some excess.
If you refrigerate it, the solid fat will be easy to remove. Reduce it as much as you like to concentrate the flavor. I cooked it down to about half, which made four servings, a little more than a cup each.
FRENCH ONION SOUP
8 ounces (1 stick) butter
2-pound bag yellow onions, not sweet, thinly sliced (a food processor would make this easier)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 large boxes (32 ounces each) unsalted beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
2 Tbsp. Gravy Master
2 tsp. dried thyme
4 bay leaves
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Cheese topping and croutons
1/2 baguette or loaf French bread, cut into 1-inch slices
4 Tsp. (half stick) butter, melted
Freshly ground black pepper
Swiss cheese, shredded, about 1-1/2 cups
Melt butter in large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until slightly browned and very soft, about 20 minutes. Stir every three to five minutes.
Add the beef stock, and water to cover if needed. Scrape bottom of pot to deglaze.
Add red wine, Gravy Master, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer two to three hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, arrange bread slices in single layer on baking sheet. Brush both sides of bread with melted butter (use more if needed).
Sprinkle tops with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, watching to make sure they brown but don’t overcook.
Remove from oven, cool.
To serve, ladle soup into ovenproof soup bowls. Top with 1 or 2 slices of toasted bread, sprinkle on cheese to cover and broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve.