by Ava Morlier, Culinary Arts Program at CTC
Well, February has come. Winter makes going outside miserable unless you have more than five layers on. Even though the feast of Christmas seems far away, rich food can still make an appearance on your table, thanks to a very special holiday: Valentine’s Day! Today’s dish will warm you up and provide a rich, delicious flavor. No need to break out the fondue pot or go to an overpriced restaurant to get that perfect meal with a loved one. Ladies and gentlemen, today I will be writing about a delicious classic that has the ability to warm any soul and make your Valentine’s Day feast easier (and tastier): French onion soup!
Before you bemoan the overpowering onions or bad flavor, let me clear up some confusion on the soup. Generally, the flavor of the onions should not be overpowering. The onions also should not be burnt. That is a common mistake that ruins many a soup. Instead, the onions need to caramelize. Caramelizing happens when the natural sugars of a food (ex. onions) cook and caramelize, often turning the food brown (not black) and giving the food a nutty flavor. This is the main flavor base of the soup, so it’s important not to overcook the onions in this stage.
Next, is the bread and cheese. The bread (called the crouton) should generally be a crusty bread (such as a baguette) and should be toasted (usually under the broiler for a short time) before going into the soup. Otherwise, you will be left with very soggy bread. I made that mistake when attempting to make the soup on my own, and the result was neither pretty nor tasty. The cheese can be pretty much anything you desire; however, provolone or Gruyere will pair the best with the rich flavors of the soup.
In general, the soup will be layered like this: soup, toasted bread, and cheese. Once layered, all will go into the broiler (in an oven-proof ceramic bowl or cup) and will come out when the cheese bubbles and develops a bit of color.
Finally, the cooking wine! Most French onion soups are made with red wine. I used a Merlot, but any red wine will work. The wine will be used to deglaze the onions, removing the brown bits full of flavor from the pan and unlocking a lot of flavor. The wine will cook out, so the soup is safe for everyone to eat. Make sure not to use too much, though; it’s hard to counteract the strong flavor. A dixie cup (or 3 tablespoons) should be enough, but feel free to add more or less based on preference.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! May this soup warm up you and your loved ones and provide rich flavors for your tables!
Classic French Onion Soup
1 red and 1 white medium-large onion, refrigerated (the different types of onions will enhance the flavor)
4 tbsp. Butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
3-4 tbsp. red wine
1 c. beef broth
½ c. water (optional)
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1-2 slices cheese (provolone and Gruyere work best)
1-2 large pieces of a crusty bread (like a baguette)
Fresh chives, chopped (optional)
• Cutting board
• Damp cloth or towel (for underneath cutting board to ensure the board doesn’t slide around)
• Heat-proof spatula
• Oven-proof bowl or large cup
1. Heat the pot on medium-low heat. Add butter and allow to melt (don’t burn).
2. Cut up the onions (with the chef’s knife): Remove the skin and first layer of the onion, then cut the root and stem and place in a small bowl. Cut in lengthwise from stem to root. Place the flat side of the half on the cutting board. Cut thin, lengthwise slices of the onion. Place finished pieces in a large bowl.
3. Once butter is melted, put the onions in the pot. Stir to coat onions in butter and turn the heat down a bit. Stir occasionally, stirring off brown bits that form. Keep in mind brown bits are natural and provide flavor.
4. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Cut bread slice(s) with the serrated knife to fit the bowl/cup (I used 2 small slices of bread to fit the size of the bowl).
5. Grease the pan and put slices of bread on it. Once the oven is up to temperature, place bread in. Do not close the oven door (it will make the oven too hot), and only allow bread to toast 1-2 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool once done.
6. Stir onions and place lid on pot; allow to cook. This process may take a bit. Heat may be turned up, but nothing above medium heat.
7. Once brown (but not black), add in cooking wine. Wine should smoke when added. Allow to cook.
8. Add beef broth, pepper, and leaves of fresh thyme and oregano. Taste test the broth and add in water if the flavor is too rich. Bring to simmer.
9. Make sure the oven is still at 500 degrees. Add soup to an oven-proof bowl. Add bread to the surface of the soup, and top with cheese. Place bowl on top of the sheet pan and put in oven, making sure to leave the oven door cracked open once bowl is in the oven. Allow to cook until cheese bubbles and has a bit of color.
10. Remove from oven and garnish with fresh chives if desired. Allow to cool and serve.