Best recipe: French onion soup

french onion soup

I got a little worried at the first reading of the Onion soup Les Halles recipe, as I don’t own either ovenproof soup crocks, nor a propane torch. The recipe I’ve chosen comes Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. I’ve never tried authentic French onion soup in a restaurant, mainly because I love to have snails or frog’s legs as a starter, so I’m not sure how to judge a good onion soup.

My first challenge was researching to find out what a bouquet garni is made up of.  For this dish, I decided to use celery, basil leaf and thyme. My second challenge was converting the recipe to metric and halving the amount. I used the very handy The Cookbook People’s Kitchen Conversion Cheat Sheet.

My eyes started to get teary cutting the first onion, so I precariously tried to chop it at arms length. I was worried I’d cut myself because I could hardly see through the tears. Fortunately, I washed the board and knife, wiped away my tears on my t-shirt sleeve, and then other next three onions were tearless. I have heard the rumour that a blunt knife makes cutting onions harder.

There is some debate about how long it takes to caramalise the onions* – most recipes have 30 minutes, and some suggest at least an hour. Felicity Cloak’s recipe suggests “This will probably take between 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your nerve.”

Flour is often added to thicken the soup, but I didn’t add it. Emmenthal works as well as Gruyere on the toast. Some people prefer to serve the cheesy toast on the side. Apparently the soup improves the day after cooking, but I didn’t notice any difference.

French onion soup is ideal as a winter dish. You could easily make a vegetarian version by changing the stock, and I’m sure this dish has many restorative powers.

French onion soup recipe

Adapted from Onion soup Les Halles recipe from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook.

For the broth:

100g butter
4 brown onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsps port wine
2 Tbsps balsamic vinegar
4 cups of homemade chicken stock or beef stock (or vegetable)
100 g bacon, cut into cubes
bouquet garni

For the croutons and cheese:

8 baguette croutons
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese 

 For the broth: 

  1. In a large pot, heat the butter over medium heat until it has melted and begins to brown. Add the onions and cook over medium heat. Keep an eye on the onions so they don’t burn and stir occasionally, until they are soft and browned (for at least 30 minutes)*.
  2. Increase the heat to medium high and add the port wine and the vinegar. Don’t forget to stir in all that brown goodness from the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Add the chicken, beef or vegetable stock.
  3. Add the bacon and the bouquet garni and bring to a boil.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the bouquet garni before serving.

For the croutons and cheese:

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place croutons on a baking tray.
  2. Toast croutons on one side in the an oven for about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the croutons from the oven and turn them over, and sprinkle on the grated cheese.
  4. Return the croutons to the oven, and toast until the cheese has melted.

Add the croutons to the soup and serve immediately.

Serves 4 people.

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge.