French Onion Soup

 

THIS MAN’S WORK

I see it every day in their youthful faces, in a tender moment’s hug, and in the glee of their smiles as they greet her when she returns home at the end of the day, that intangible, yet comprehensible, undeniably special tether between children and their mother. Impossible to mimic, not that I would dare to, but rather I behold the bond in awe for the beauty it is; a natural wonder.

I cannot do Mother Nature’s work, but I can hold hers in my hands, and manipulate it so that I may do my work.

Hands holding a yellow onion by Cakewalker

The butt of the steel blade gave a resounding thud upon the cutting board dividing the bulbous, fleshy white onion in two. Instantaneously a whiff of sweet allium darted to my nostrils; it conjured up grayscale images in my mind of soil, roots and earthy nurture. To my eyes, however, the airborne mist from slice after slice of the vegetable brought a searing sting. Soon thereafter, the initial sweet aroma gave way to pungency, yet I pushed through, completing the task towards something becoming utterly delicious.

Slicing Onions by Cakewalker

Truth be told, it has been decades since I made French onion soup. I learned how to make it not from a written recipe, but was shown the process by Executive Chef Paul Panella, who I worked under at this establishment. Hands-on training is some of the best way to learn a new task, especially a recipe, and particularly in the kitchen. When the children requested the beef stock-based dish this past Valentine’s Day, I was only happy to comply. I smiled at the notion of their request, for I knew the true target which piqued their interest, was the cheese of the gratinéed crouton atop the soup―the glorious, crusty virtues of which they heard about in a previous discussion at the dinner table.

Cutting the soup croutons to size by Cakewalker

Buttering and toasting the croutons by Cakewalker

Given the special request of the holiday menu, I desired to fulfill it correctly, to present an honest, classic representation of onion soup. Armed with a faded recollection of how to make it, I turned to a book from my collection, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Juila Child. I was not only thrilled to read my instinct of the process was on point, but the recipe was along parallel lines to the one shown to me 30 years ago.

“The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew.”  ―Julia Child

 

Caramelizing the onions by Cakewalker

Four cast iron country kettles of soup emerged from under the broiler, the golden blisters of bubbling cheese concealed the crouton and savory broth inside, while the heady aroma of molten Swiss and parmesan filled the room. The candles were lit, the family was seated, and the meal commenced.

I watched the children in silent observation as their spoons broke through the crust, loving them, forming my own special tether to them, through my hands, through my work.

 

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée by Brooks Walker

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

There's something so rich, hearty and satisfying about French onion soup, yet this recipe is easy to make―it just needs a bit of time, and love!

Recipe adapted from Julia Child

Ingredients

  • 5 cups yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 1 ½ pounds)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, plus more for croutons
  • 1 Tablespoon oil (I used Canola)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 quarts boiling brown beef stock, canned beef bouillon, or beef broth
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 3 Tablespoons brandy
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 hard toasted rounds cut from sourdough bread slices
  • 16 slices Swiss cheese (deli slices)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Equipment:
  • 4-quart heavy-bottomed, covered sauce pan or soup pot
  • Fireproof tureens or individual soup pots suitable for heating under the broiler

Instructions

    For the Soup:
  • In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan cook the onions slowly over medium-low heat with the 3 tablespoons butter and the oil, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30-40 minutes stirring frequently, until onions turn a uniform deep golden brown.
  • Sprinkle in the flour stirring gently for 3 minutes.
  • Remove the sauce pan from heat, slowly add the boiling stock or broth, add the wine; season to taste.
  • Return soup to heat; simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes or more, skim occasionally if needed, and adjust seasoning.
  • At this point set soup aside covered, until ready to serve, or refrigerate for use later. In either case, reheat to a slow boil. Just before serving, and off heat, carefully stir in the brandy.
  • To make the crouton rounds:
  • Cut circles from the slices of sourdough bread to the approximate diameter of the bowls. Place the rounds in a single layer on a baking pan and bake in a 325° F preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Baste each side with melted butter, return to the oven for approximately 15 more minutes, or until the rounds are thoroughly dried out and lightly browned; set aside.
  • Assembly:
  • Set the oven in broil mode. Place the heat-proof bowls on a roasting pan. Ladle the hot soup into each serving vessel; leave enough headroom to accommodate the crouton so that it floats flush to the top of the bowl. Place a crouton round in each bowl, top with 2 shingled slices of Swiss cheese each, and a nice mound of parmesan cheese. Place the roasting pan under the broiler and use per your oven’s directions. Brown the tops of the tureens until the cheese is bubbly and golden. Serve immediately.

Notes

While cooking the onions, they'll remain light in color for the longest time. Suddenly, around the 30-minute mark (of the first 30-40 minute cooking duration), they will take on color becoming deeper brown as they caramelize.

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Comments

  1. Oh Brooks! I came for the soup but my heart’s been so warmed by your love for your family that I don’t need it anymore. I love your observations. Of course, that being said, if you passed one of those cute little kettles my way, I wouldn’t turn it down. :)

  2. Brooks, Your description of the mother-child bond is beautiful. I love how your children turned to you for their special Valentine dinner…so sweet! The soup looks amazing & awesome photo. Bon Appetit may be calling to publish on their cover. Thanks for sharing this recipe…pinning this so others can enjoy!

  3. Julia Child’s onion soup recipe is my go-to recipe! I love the complexity of flavors of this dish, it’s absolutely genius! I may have to go get the ingredients and make some!

    • Brooks Walker says:

      You’ve nailed it Renee, those complex flavors are astounding, yet easily achieved with a little bit of time. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Masterful work, on all levels. Sure to become a classic post, featuring a classic recipe. Congrats, Brooks! Very well done.

  5. Brooks, I love the way you’ve described the mother-child bond as well as your own bond with your close-knit little family. Sweet! And this MAFC onion soup is my favorite. I posted it in January 2013 and have probably made it only once since then. I like to keep it “special.” Some people don’t make it because they think of it as difficult, but it isn’t. It just takes time. And one often hears it said that it must be made with homemade stock or broth or else don’t bother. And that simply isn’t true. I use a good organic storebought broth that turns out wonderfully well. Before I make it again, though, I must get some of those cute little cast-iron kettles!

    • Brooks Walker says:

      Perfectly stated, Jean, time is the catalyst for success in this simple dish. I like to think the love for the process of cooking tranfers in the finished product too. Moreover, you’re right again about using a good quality, time-saving store-bought broth. Thank you for the wonderful comment—I’m glad you stopped by!

  6. I remember my siblings and I greeting my dad enthusiastically when he would return from work at the end of the day. Well, me and any sibling that was not waiting for him to receive the other half of a stern talking to, that is. While we do love dad it was different from greeting mom when she began to come home at the end of her work day. :-) I see what you mean. Especially when I come home to the kids. It’s pretty neat.

    French onion soup reminds me of my dad. He loves it. This reminds me of him and how I would like to make this for him!

    I hope you are having a good week.

    • Brooks Walker says:

      I am having a good week, Dionne, thank you! Wonderful childhood memories you shared, and now to be receiving the adoration from your kids. It would be lovely to present this soup to your dad, I’m confident he’d enjoy it.

  7. I love those little country kettles! I make a point of making this soup once or twice a year — it’s so incredibly good! I go back and forth on whether I like it better with or without the brandy. But I think probably with. Great recipe, super pictures — thanks.

    • Brooks Walker says:

      Thank you for the compliment, John. The kettles make an attractive presentation, with the real prize being contained inside!

  8. It’s the cheesy crouton that piques my interest, too! Who could resist that gooey melted cheese???? I’m hoping someone around here requests some French onion soup…
    PS…thanks for your kind thoughts. Lots of healing going on here…but all is well.

    • Brooks Walker says:

      The cheesy crouton is indeed captivating, Liz. Spring a batch on the family…that should jump-start the requests! I’m glad to here you & yours are finding even keel. Take care, my friend

  9. wow I have tears in my eyes. You are the perfect student! I am like a proud mother, your words connecting us. What a wonderful and beautiful post, magical words. Gorgeous photos and a perfect recipe. Oh to have been a fly on the wall when a bowl was placed in front of each one of them. And now I have to ask husband to make this for me.

    • Brooks Walker says:

      Jamie, your writing is exemplary, challenging me to reach for the bar. Thank you, for the inspiration! No doubt JP will serve you the finest soup in the land. Perhaps one day I’ll read about it on the pages of Life’s A Feast. It’s wonderful to have you here my friend.

  10. Everything about this post is just lovely, friend. Everything.

  11. Your storytelling technique is absolutely mesmerizing. I’m hopeless when it comes to storytelling. and your onion soup looks so delicious! your children are very fortunate

    • Brooks Walker says:

      Thank you so much, Shannon. I had a teacher who always said, “Practice, practice!” Whether it’s cooking, learning a foreign language or writing, the simple phrase holds true. Keep at it, and I’m glad you stopped by!

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