Whoever (or whatever–in the event it was aliens) came up with the idea of liquid consumables (otherwise known as soups) was really on to something.
Water, meats, vegetables, spices and herbs–you name it–all go into making some of the best foods you can enjoy. And quite often, they cost less than you’d pay to dine on something not nearly as nutritious or filling.
Soups are just plain goodness.
I have my favorites, just like everyone else, but the other day I was reminiscing about dishes you always used to see on the menus of really good restaurants that you rarely see anymore. I was thinking of Shrimp de Jonghe, Béarnaise Sauce on anything, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Steak Dianne, Lobster Thermidor, Soufflés, etc.
And then, I thought of French Onion Soup Gratin.
You know the one; I’m sure you can picture it in your mind—the brown, earthenware crock, with the clunky handle. The top is mounded with a cobblestone look of crusted bread peeking out beneath bubbling, melted cheese–ummmmm.
And the soup itself? Pure heaven…
For those who never thought they would like onions? This was a revelation. This wasn’t a soup. It was a meal.
Unlike many other dishes we order in restaurants–foods we expect to be hot or at least warm when they arrive at our table, it seemed French onion soup always came with a stern warning as it was placed in front of you. I can’t remember a time I didn’t hear it: “Now, this is really HOT!” Really? I never hear them say that when they pour hot coffee in my cup. Maybe coffee is just hot.
French onion soup, on the other hand, is REALLY hot.
That must be the difference.
Anyway, the more I began to think about it, the more I just had to make a batch. So I’m sharing the recipe with you.
Now, before I begin, French onion soup just isn’t French onion soup unless you add the bread and cheese on top and broil it. As much as I’d like to give you some neat little trick to pull this off in your microwave oven, I just can’t.
There are no really good shortcuts. Some things are just better old school.
And speaking of old school, there are some ingredients you should stick to if you want to do this thing right.
You need to use oven-baked rounds of thick French bread, and we have a product at Nino’s called Toasts that works very well. Soft bread, which is just toasted in your toaster, gets way too soggy when floated on your onion soup.
You really need three cheeses (sorry): shredded Gruyere and Swiss (for flavor and stringiness) and Parmesan (for tanginess and crust).
As far as onions are concerned, you can use any of three kinds, but I’d recommend a half-and-half mixture of Spanish and Sweet (Vidalia kind). You can also use white onions, but I personally don’t use cooking onions or red onions. Spanish onions will give your finished soup a more onion flavor–sweet onions less so.
And while we’re on onions, cut them in half and then in ½” finger-width slices. Too thin and you have stringy noodles; too wide and you’ll have trouble keeping them on your spoon. Like with Goldie Locks, somewhere in the middle is just right.
You can use either dry sherry or sweet (cream) sherry. Sweet sherry (in my opinion) is better suited to this recipe.
Kitchen Bouquet is optional. It does add a bit of additional seasoning, but it’s mostly there for the color. Don’t disregard the importance of that rich brown color. It adds to the experience.
The broth/stock you use is important; use something good. Kitchen Basics brand is just fine.
Ok, with that all said, here’s the recipe:
French Onion Soup Gratin
Makes about 2 quarts or 6 servings 3 lbs Onions, cut in half and then ½” slices ½ Stick Butter 1 Quart Chicken Broth 1 Quart Beef Broth ¼ Cup Sweet Sherry 1-2 TBSPS Kitchen Bouquet Seasoning Liquid 1 tsp Parsley Flakes To Taste Salt & Pepper
1 Package Salvaggio Toasts (Parmesan or Butter) ¼ Lb (Approx) Shredded Gruyere Cheese ¼ Lb (Approx) Shredded Swiss Cheese ½ Cup (Approx) Grated Parmesan Cheese
In a deep, heavy-bottomed sauce pot, sauté then caramelize the onions in the butter. DO NOT BURN. They should have a medium-brown color and still have some texture.
Add broths, sherry, Kitchen Bouquet and parsley flakes.
Simmer very slowly for 30 to 45 minutes to infuse the onion flavor into the broths.
Season with salt and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes.
Fill soup crocks nearly to the top lip with soup, and top each with enough toasts to cover the entire surface.
Mix together the Gruyere and Swiss cheeses, and cover the toasts with the cheese.
Sprinkle the top of the cheese mixture liberally with the grated Parmesan cheese.
Place crocks on a sheet pan and under a broiler set approximately 10” beneath the broiler coils (or heat).
Close oven door slightly and broil until the tops of each crock are melted and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and place each crock on its own under-liner plate.