When I’m canning I follow recipes, or I try to, because there are serious health and safety issues involved and I don’t want my family to get all sick and dead and whatever because I didn’t have the temperature or pH levels correct. But when I’m cooking normal food, recipes are treated like vague inspiration. The big downside to this approach is that when something turns out spectacularly good, there’s no written record of exactly how you produced it, and subsequent attempts will never turn out exactly the same.
Today I’m going to share, as best as I can remember it, my recipe for French Onion Soup. And let me tell you, when this “recipe” turns out the results are fantastic. At it’s best, this recipe is the best French Onion Soup I’ve ever had. At it’s worst it is still pretty darn good.
First, the ingredients:
- A whole bunch of onions. Get one of those bags at the grocery store. Or more than one bag. Go nuts.
- Good, fresh garlic.
- Enough beef stock or broth. How much is “enough”? It depends how big your pot is and how many onions you got.
- Some beef bouillon
- Good apple cider
- Salt, pepper. Some herbs too. I like Rosemary and some bayleaves.
- Butter. Or olive oil. Or whatever you’ve got.
I like a good sweet Vidalia or other sweet yellow onion. You can use white onions too, but a good sweet yellow onion seems to produce the best results for me. The beef broth you get is going to make up the majority of your soup, so don’t skimp on quality. I tend to like a good, clear broth for best presentation, and something low in sodium. Some recipes call for veal stock. I’m not a big fan of veal personally, so I stick with beef broth.
The apple cider is my secret weapon, and what sets my recipe apart from so many others. I’ve also made this soup, with very good results, using a good quality Marsala wine instead of Apple Cider, and I’ve made it before with about 50/50 Marsala and Cider. If you use Cider you want something that’s sweet and a little tart. Too much bitterness or sourness won’t work. Because of weather-related issues, I didn’t have any apple cider on hand this time and had to use a no-sugar-added, 100% apple juice instead. The results were still good but not as great as with a good cider.
Next, the process:
- Take the skin and ends off your onions and slice them. I like long, thin slices. Aesthetics. Cut an onion, go have a good cry. Cut another onion, go cry some more. Don’t judge me. You want to fill whatever pot you are using completely to the top with onions. All the way to the very top. Don’t skimp out and try to get away with fewer onions. FILL. IT. UP.
- Oh right, you’re supposed to add some butter or oil or something to the pan so things don’t burn. Go back and do that first.
- Cook your onions down, stirring them around so they don’t burn. You want to cook them down until they turn a deep golden brown. There’s a fine line between perfectly caramelized onions and burnt nasty onions. Once you’ve crossed that line you’ve cooked them too much. Start over. The higher your heat, the more closely it will need to be tended. medium low or medium heat work well. This part of the process took me about an hour and a half, but for most of it I didn’t need to watch very closely.
- When the onions are cooked all the way down and are deep golden brown, you can add your deglazing liquid. You only need, at most, 4 cups. One or two might be fine too. Put it in the pot and let it bubble while stiring and scraping the bottom of the pot to get all the important flavor bits dissolved into solution. In this picture, I walked away to get the camera and a little bit of the goop on the bottom started to burn. It wasn’t too bad though, and didn’t really affect the final soup.
- You’re going to need to add garlic at some point. I like a fresh, raw garlic flavor so I add it just before, or just after the deglazing liquid. If you like a more mild, caramelized garlic flavor, add it to the onions earlier and let the two cook together for a while. This is a trial and error process to find what you like most.
- Add some herbs and black pepper. You can add the black pepper all the way at the very beginning if you want, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference. You can add the bay leaves pretty early while the onions are cooking down too, but I also don’t think it matters. All these things can be added after the deglazing liquid if you want. I’ll usually add a bay leaf or two and handful of chopped fresh rosemary. Thyme, marjoram, taragon and even oregano may work well, but you’ll need to experiment to find a collection that works well for you.
- After the flavor bits are dissolved and the deglazing liquid has reduced by half or more add your stock. Fill your pot up with it. Turn up the heat and bring the whole thing to a boil.
- Now you start to taste it. Taste the soup and see two things: whether the salt level is good enough and whether the broth has a rich-enough beefy flavor. Add beef bouillon first to adjust the beefy flavor, then add salt if you still need more after that. This is why you should use the low-sodium broths, so you don’t over-do the salt levels when adjusting the beefy flavor.
- Boil the whole shebang for an hour at least. You want to make sure all the good onion flavor gets out into the broth. After this, take out the bayleaves. You’re done! Eat your soup.
That’s the general recipe for creating French Onion Soup. Next post I’m going to talk about storing, canning, and eating this great soup.