A time consuming treat, but totally worth while in the end!
One last thing before we head into the fun that is December and all the spice and seasoning of the holiday spirit! I've been wanting to try my hand at making French onion soup for a while, and like many of the things I want to make, I just haven't been able to get around to it. Until now! And let me tell you, it was worth every minute spent staring at the stove wondering what's taking these onions so long to cook?
But best of all, I didn't have to go out and buy special bowls to cook this in. The recipe I found suggests an easy way to get all that gruyere flavor without the hassle of finding just the right dish to serve it in. Always a good thing for my wallet and my cabinets!
While people have been making soup from onions since basically the dawn of time, French onion soup as we know it today might have been invented by accident by King Louis XV. Might, of course meaning that there's no way to prove that this is really true. What we do know is that it's a dish that's been around since the 18th century, and that the crouton of delicious French bread traditionally served with the soup might have ties to some of the first soups enjoyed by humans. The word "soup" actually comes from the Roman word for "sop", as in to sop your stale bread in hot broth to soften it and give it some extra nutrition. Did you know the word "restaurant" actually refers to soup, too? Soups were originally marketed in France by street vendors as restoratives - thus restaurant. Pretty crazy, right?
My recipe isn't Louis XV's, but I think most of us can say that Tyler Florence knows what he's doing, too. It can be accessed on Food Network.com. One of the things I really enjoy about using recipes from Food Network is they usually include video clips of the chef making the recipe, so you can get a visual idea of what the product's supposed to look like while you're making it.
That said, sometimes I think they oversell how easy their recipes are. This wasn't hard, but there were a couple steps that took way, way longer than I expected them to.
To begin with, you melt down a half cup of butter in a pot, and then add four sliced onions, two chopped garlic cloves, two bay leaves, two springs of fresh thyme, salt and pepper to the pot. Two things: it turns out you really don't need fresh thyme to make this work, which is good because it's not cheap and they don't sell two sprigs by themselves, and I finally found a way to cut onions without feeling like I'm suffering from a mustard gas attack. I chopped them on the stove with the vent on all the way up! The vapors got sucked up and didn't irritate my eyes anywhere near as badly as they usually do.
(For comparison's sake, before I had this brainstorm and halfway into cutting my first onion, my eyes were watering so badly I literally couldn't see.)
Tyler says these need to cook down for 25 minutes to caramelize over medium heat. Either Tyler is some kind of food wizard - possible - or I did something wrong - also possible, but I personally feel is doubtful in this case - but this took me over an hour to get the onions fully cooked down and soft. This is also something you can't just leave totally unattended, as thinly sliced onions can and will burn.
Once they're soft and caramelized - however long that takes - you add in a cup of red wine and bring the mixture up to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer, and let the wine cook off until it's totally gone. Tyler said this would take about five minutes.
It did not take five minutes.
After half an hour of waiting for the liquid to cook off, I fished out the bay leaves and dusted the onions with three tablespoons of flour. I cooked them for ten more minutes, dumped in the two quarts of beef broth, and brought the whole thing up to a simmer.
So, even though it took probably three times as long as Tyler the Food Wizard said it would, it was finished, and it looked pretty good.
So the soup's done. But no French onion soup is truly complete without the crouton and cheese!
Anyone who's ever been served French onion soup at a restaurant knows the best part of eating it is eating the hot melted cheese over the top of the soup and the floating slice of bread in your bowl. There's just one problem when trying to make this at home: this delicious treat can get complicated if you don't have a bowl that can survive being put under a broiler.
I'm going to take a wild guess and say most of my readers don't own soup bowls that are oven safe. I definitely don't, and for a while, I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to actually make this dish authentically at all without them. I knew I definitely didn't want to go out and buy bowls just for this one blog post. What if home made French onion soup was gross and totally not worth making ever again?
Fortunately, Tyler Florence came to the rescue... even if he's still a liar about cook times. Instead of cooking this under the broiler, you make individual croutons! Slice up french bread, sprinkle on some gruyere cheese, and bake it under the broiler on low for three to five minutes. These did cook on time.
Drop these into your soup bowls, and you're good to go! You can add additional cheese into the soup itself if you want some extra gooey cheese.
So, after intending to each this around 12:45 for lunch, we wound up eating this around 3:15, and then served the rest to some visitors as an appetizer to dinner. Which hey, at least it eventually was finished! That's something, right?
I got about five or six servings out of this, which is pretty much what the recipe said it would produce. I really wasn't sure if I was going to like it after all that work, but when I took my first spoonful... wow. It tasted just like something you'd order at a restaurant! I was actually really impressed and pleased with myself for being able to pull this off, even though it's in theory a very simple dish. I've made some tasty food, but rarely have I made something that tastes pretty much exactly like the dishes I've had at local French bistros and such. I would definitely recommend this recipe for anyone looking for something that tastes like the real thing.
The other thing I'd recommend is using caution when eating your floating croutons. The first one I bit into was hard to get an actual bite of, and the hot broth also streamed down my chin and burned my lip a little. Not fun! Proceed with caution, and you'll have a really tasty treat to enjoy.
Even if it took way too long to make.
Those croutons though... we might need to make a few more to eat on their own!