French onion soup is one of the few dishes I can safely say is either good or bad. In my experience, I can’t remember ever getting a bowl that was “meh.” It can be a savory, slightly sweet bowl of deeply oniony broth, topped with some crusty bread and gooey melted Gruyère cheese, or the alternative, which is a bitter, salty mug of broth, topped with some soggy bread and something more like processed cheese.
Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I get the latter, I think, “I should have made it myself.” After all, a delightful version of French onion soup is not hard to make and the results are nothing short of soul-satisfying.
Sometimes I feel like adding some browned mushrooms for an extra bit of earthiness, which I did in the following recipe, but if you prefer a more pristine version, feel free to leave out the mushrooms and skip to the next step.
Start with thinly sliced yellow onions — not too thin, though, as they tend to melt into nothing. About ¼-inch is what you’re looking for. I avoid sweet onions, as I find they don’t have as much flavor when cooked. Instead, I use yellow or Spanish onions, which do a much better job of retaining their onioniness. Caramelize the onions in butter in a large Dutch oven (I prefer enameled cast iron). Start off using a high heat, then turn down the temperature and cook until the onions are a deep brown.
Remember, deeply browned onions and burnt onions are two different ingredients. One has a complex sweetness and the other has, well, a less enjoyable flavor. That’s why it’s important to cook the onions low and slow. This draws out the onion’s natural sugar and cooks them properly without going too far into the dark side (read “burnt”).
Once the onions have caramelized, a little dry white wine is the catalyst for getting all those beautiful browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Put some elbow grease into scraping it.
The next ingredient can be controversial. In a perfect world, homemade beef broth would be the ideal liquid to use in this soup. The problem is that homemade beef broth can take a long time to cook properly, and most of us don’t have a couple of quarts hanging out in our freezers.
Unfortunately, store-bought beef broth has a long way to go in terms of quality. I have yet to find one that I thought worked well in French onion soup. The best alternative would be homemade chicken broth, which is much quicker to make than beef, or a good-quality store-bought chicken broth, which does exist.
While your soup is simmering away, cut up a crusty loaf of rustic bread into cubes and toast with a little olive oil. Ladle the soup into those ovenproof individual crocks you bought years ago and have yet to use, and top with the toasted bread and a generous amount of shredded Gruyère cheese (it’s well worth it to splurge for the real thing).
Brown under the broiler until bubbly and you have a bowl that will make you wonder why all French onion soup isn’t this good.
French Onion and Mushroom Soup
Note: Caramelizing the onions slowly and using good-quality chicken stock is the key to this recipe. Feel free to leave out the mushrooms if you prefer a more traditional soup. If you have homemade beef broth, use that instead of the chicken variety, if you prefer. From Meredith Deeds.
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
• 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced (see Note)
• 3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 3/4 tsp. salt, or more
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more
• 1/2 c. dry white wine
• 8 c. chicken stock or broth (homemade or low-sodium store-bought; see Note)
• 4 sprigs fresh thyme
• 1 tsp. lemon juice
• 4 c. cubes of rustic French bread
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 1/2 c. shredded Gruyère cheese
In a 6-quart Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a bowl.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the onions to the pot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the onions are a mahogany brown. Add the garlic, salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Raise the heat to medium-high and return the browned mushrooms to the pot, along with the white wine. Cook, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until the wine has mostly evaporated. Add the broth and thyme sprigs, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Add more salt and pepper, if desired.
Meanwhile, place the bread cubes on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until lightly toasted.
Set oven to broil. Set 6 ovenproof bowls or crocks onto a large baking sheet. Ladle the soup into the crocks, top with bread cubes and a generous sprinkling of cheese. Broil until the bread is lightly toasted and the cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 370 Fat 22 g Sodium 810 mg
Carbohydrates 28 g Saturated fat 10 g Total sugars 6 g
Protein 20 g Cholesterol 45 mg Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1½ starch, 2 medium-fat protein, 2 fat.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.