Photo from Simply in Season produce guide
Oven Baked French Onion Soup
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated January/February 2008
3 T. unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 large yellow onions (about 4 lbs), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4 inch thick slices
2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
1/2 c. madeira
6 cups mixed beef and chicken stock (I used 4 c. beef stock plus 2 c. chicken, though the original recipe calls for 4 c. chicken stock plus 2 c. beef stock)
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper
1 small baguette, cut on bias into 1/2 inch slices
8 oz Comte or Gruyere, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)
1. For the Soup: Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Generously oil the inside of a large dutch oven (5 qts or larger). Place butter in pot and add onion and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, 1 hour. 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 until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring after 1 hour.
2. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15-20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6-8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. Watch the pan closely, as a golden crust can turn into a blackened charred mess easier than one might think! Stir in 1/4 c. water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6-8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times until onions are very dark brown. Stir in madeira and cook, stirring frequently, until madeira evaporates, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in broths, 2 cups water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 t. 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 for at least 30 more minutes, and up to an hour. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.
4. For the Croutons: While soup simmers, arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet, and bake in a 400 degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
5. To Serve: Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual crocks or ramekins on a baking sheet and fill with hot soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, about 3-4 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
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A few weeks ago on the same France trip that introduced me to Feves au Lard Fume, Steven and I met up with his Aunt and Uncle in the northern foothills of the Pyrenees. After not having seen each other for almost a year, we first covered the basic “what have you been up to?” questions on both sides. The conversation soon turned to food, as it often does when food lovers are involved, and Jane started telling me about the most delicious french onion soup she had ever tasted. ‘It’s baked in the oven’, she said, ‘it takes four or five hours’, she said, ‘it’s the best french onion soup you’ll ever taste’, she said… I was absolutely intrigued.
Soon after returning home, Jane sent me the recipe she had been talking about. I made it the following weekend (how could I not, with all of the build-up?)…
The onions cook ever so slowly in the oven until tender and sweet, then are subjected to not one, not two, but three deglazes! A little madeira and the stock is added, then the whole thing is simmered slowly for another hour or so to blend the flavors further. The rich flavorful soup, topped with homemade croutons and gooey melted cheese, is gastronomically stunning.
Granted, like nearly all soups, this one improves in flavor if aged for a day or so. But, unlike many soups, this one is fantastic straight out of the pot as soon as it’s made. The long, slow cooking creates something delicate, complex, round, and toothsome. I officially agree with Jane — it’s the best onion soup I’ve ever tasted.