08 November, 2014

French Onion Soup.... Just.YUM!

Nip in the air this morning....husband has already turned the heat on (hate that...I refuse to acknowledge "cold" until we have snow and it has stuck for more than a week), so I suppose soup, stew, and chili season has begun in most regions of the country now.  When my 'rents were here I was reminded of my Momma2's favorite soup.  She didn't request it, but I was mentally going through my list of my parents' favorite foods over and over again, trying to add them to our weekly menu as best as I could without totally blowing dinner time with the children all to hell.  Her favorite is French Onion Soup.  I've never bothered to try to make it because every recipe and method I've seen involved TONS of time standing over a hot stove and stirring onions.  With a newborn, I just didn't have time for that...

I honestly don't know many people that DO have time to do that.  So I had to find a method to make this soup that wouldn't half kill my feet or cause a lawful case of child neglect to ensue.  I consulted one of my favorite places to fix mental conundrums when it comes to cooking, picking out new kitchen appliances, and new kitchen tools as well.  America's Test Kitchen.  Man...they sure have their act together!  I was able to figure out a way to make this soup for my family without being a slave to my stove!  Yippie!  But was it going to taste awesome???  Only time would tell... 

French Onion Soup
3 T. organic unsalted butter, cut into 3 pats
6 large organic Vidalia or Walla Walla onions (4 lbs)
2 c. water, plus extra for deglazing
1/2 c. dry sherry
4 c. organic low-sodium chicken stock
2 c. organic beef stock
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine or in sachet
1 bay leaf
ground black pepper

Crouton Topping
baguette loaf, cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 1/2 c. grated organic gruyere cheese

Somewhere along the line, the Sprout ran off and hid my kitchen twine and I haven't been able to locate it.  Lucky for me I had these tiny little spice bags hanging out in my tool drawer.  I want my twine back!!  But the bags worked out just wonderfully, so if you have these...feel free to use them!

For the soup, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 F.

Grab your onions and start chopping them in half.  You need to do the initial slice in half from tip to root, it helps the onions hold up better as they are being cooked and stirred over and over.  If you cut them in half as you would for onion rings, the onions will break down into mush before the soup is finished.

Generously spray inside of a 7 quart, heavy-bottomed large Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place the 3 pats of butter in the pot and add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. 

Cover the pot with a fitted lid or tin foil and cook for 1 hour (onions will be moist and will reduce a bit in volume). Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot.

Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook for another 1 1/2- 1 3/4 hours or until onions are very soft and golden brown, stirring onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.

Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat, and don't forget to use oven mitts to handle pot because it will be HOT.  Cook the onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reduce the heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. (Scrape anything that collects on spoon back into onions...that is FLAVOR, don't let it go to waste!)

Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes.

Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown.

Stir in sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.

Stir in broths, 2 cups water, 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.

Now...at this point you can go on and prepare your croutons and serve this, but I am telling you...if you put this in the fridge for 2 days to just soak in its own juices and roominate, it will amplify the flavors beyond ALL belief!  It is fabulous NOW, but...it is unbelievable after a couple of days just like Marcia's Pumpkin Bars.  The longer the onions have to sit in the juices, the better the broth tastes.

To make the croutons while soup is simmering, arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes and then set it aside. 

Grate your grueyere cheese and set it aside.  Make sure you choose a great quality cheese...which means, not made in America lol!!  Grand Suesse or Alpenhaus brands are best for this soup...most stores will have it.  I found mine at Target...it is everywhere!

To serve the soup, adjust oven rack under your broiler element and turn the oven on to broil setting. Set individual broiler-safe crocks or bowls (Yes, we're still unpacking after 5 months here and heck if I can find my soup crocks!  Grrrr...) on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices, but don't overlap slices and then sprinkle evenly with the gruyere. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.


 After making french onion soup this way...I'll never do it any other way again!  With 3 littles under 5 to care for, letting the OVEN do all of the cooking work instead of me standing at my stove for hours tending to onions sounds like a plan to ME!  After the oven time my time at the stove doing any work was limited to small spurts of time for stirring when I had to deglaze the pot n such.  No big deal at all.

I'd like to show you my favorite plating option with this soup...it makes for the least amount of mess, the biggest amount of crunch with your baguette crouton, and feels more enjoyable to me personally as an eating experience...

Twice the amount of bread and cheese, half of the amount of soup, but still totally fills me to the brim on those cold autumn and winter days.  Love, love, LOVE this way of eating my soup.

A friend recently asked me on Facebook about an alcohol free French Onion Soup recipe.  That is pretty simple, take whatever alcohol is in this recipe and replace it with apple cider vinegar.  Easy peasy.  There are a number of ways you can modify this recipe to make its theme different.  Italian Onion soup for instance...replace the fresh thyme with fresh basil and rosemary and use red wine instead of sherry.  If you're going alcohol free on the Italian Onion soup use balsamic vinegar to replace the alcohol.  This cooking technique is really the only part of this recipe that should be followed no matter what.  The herbs and alcohol used are flexible.

We love this soup and it is a family favorite, even with the almost 5 year old.  He discovered onion rings this year and all of the sudden has much love for all things "onion".  Now...if only he could fall in love with chocolate, we'd be set!  Look folks, I know don't really need to talk this up much because this soup speaks for itself; loud and clear.  With superbly deep, concentrated flavor in every beautifully cheesy bite, you can't go wrong with this recipe and it will soon become a favorite that you whip out on those cold autumn and winter days and as your family rolls in the door and catches a whiff of this in the air, they'll know they are about to feast upon some seriously delicious bowls full of love.  Enjoy!

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