Thursday, February 23, 2012

French Friday with Dorie: Cheese-Topped (French) Onion Soup


We love soup at our house, in fact, soup is daughter #2's favorite food.  She  makes tasty broths, loves lots of added vegetables, and eats it by the pot.  But for some reason, French Onion Soup has not made it into our regular rotation, even though it is a healthy, comforting food.

When I was young my mom  found ways to use the hundreds of pounds of onions that my Dad would harvest from our garden.  I especially remember one year having onion and cheese casseroles (something like mac and cheese), liver ‘n onions once a week (my Mom made us eat this dish for good health), onions in salads, pickled onions, onions sauteed with tomatoes (and a little sugar), and onion soup.  But I don’t remember her onion soup being as good as today’s French onion soup.  It did not have the scrumptious toasted bread topped with the melted cheese that turned this simple dish into gourmet food.
I read through Dorie’s recipe and was very careful to caramelize the onions very slowly and carefully over low heat.  I did not want any burned piece of onion that would make my soup taste bitter.  But I must have had too low a heat because after an hour my four pounds of sliced Spanish onions looked almost as fresh as when I first added them to my Dutch oven.  Dorie cautioned that it might take an hour or more to achieve a deep caramel color and we should not try to speed up this process by using a higher heat.

I was working on office papers and would be up for awhile, but I wanted the soup to be finished so I did adjust the heat upwards thinking that my low was just too low...on my scale from 1 to 10, the knob had been at a 3.  I turned it to 4.

At midnight there was just a hint of color, poor Hubby woke up from smelling too many onions, so I needed to be done.   After letting it cool, I put the whole pan into the fridge and decided to work on it the next day.
The next afternoon I was watching my grandkiddies who wanted to play outside so I took advantage of that time to put my onions back on the heat, this time at a 5...a mid range, definitely not on low.  While we played, the onions simmered for another hour...this is now 5 hours of cooking and finally they began to get some good color.  And I deserved good color after all this time, so I let them cook and I stirred every 10 minutes for another 40 minutes.  Almost 6 hours to caramelize my onions, but it was worth it.  They were sweet, really sweet, and dark and rich tasting.  The added chicken broth took on the caramel color as the soup sat for an hour or two before dinner, but I was thinking that a beef broth would have created an even darker, richer color.
It would be a couple of hours before dinner so the kiddies and I had an outing to purchase a French baguette which complemented our French soup.  We also bought Gruyere cheese which is a mild and fabulous melting Swiss cheese that the French people love to use in many of their dishes....kinda like AZ folks using CA cheese...they are good neighbors.  After returning home, we heated our soup to boiling, grated the cheese,  and we filled our broiler safe bowls with the hot soup.  Then we topped the soup with a slice of toasted bread and crowned our creation with the grated cheese. 
After a few minutes under the broiler our cheese-topped onion soup was ready to eat.  YUM!  The stringy, melted cheese (melted down over the bread and into the soup) on the toasty bread that had sopped up lots of very flavorful soup was delicious.  9 year old Penguin quickly finished her bowl and declared it good!  Her dad arrived and ate two bowls....also said it was good, in fact, really good. I agreed.  Other family came and went and by the time I was ready to clean up, the entire pot of soup had been eaten.

It was so good that I did not mind my house smelling like onions for 2 days.  When I make this soup another time, I’ll cook it very slowly again; won’t change a thing, except that I’ll begin caramelizing my onions after breakfast rather than after dinner, and I might cook them outside.


  1. I think you should win some sort of an award this week for being so patient. My theory is that Dorie is using a gas stove, and since it is sometimes difficult to get a really low flame with a gas burner, I suspect that her lowest setting is still much hotter than the lowest setting on my induction stove. But I bet those slowly cooked onions of yours were delicious in your soup.

    Also, a quick note on gruyere, it is actually a cheese which is made in both Switzerland and France. It's funny because when I used to buy gruyere in the US, my grocery store generally sold one option. Here when I ask for gruyere there are 2 or 3 follow up questions to navigate before I can walk out with my purchase, such as, do you want a milder (younger) one or a stronger (older) one. French or Swiss? The French, of course, think that their version is better and the Swiss think that theirs is better. It's kind of like cheddar cheese in the US, there are so many different options, whereas here, I am lucky if I can find any cheddar period.

  2. Wow, Kris - I thought 1 1/2 hours was a long time! Patient, indeed! We loved this & will definitely make it again. I'm glad you enjoyed it after all that effort.

  3. Wow - your onions took a loooong time, didn't they?
    It looks like your results came out well!

  4. Wow...four hours! I'm wondering if it had to do with the fact that you were cooking four pounds of onions. Since I was making soup for two, I had a lot less time (1 1/2 hours) but still long in my opinion. Your soup looks tasty nonetheless.

  5. Speaking of patient, you win the award. Do you think the variety of onion used would make a difference? Would adding a pinch of sugar speed up the carmelizing process?

  6. Wow Kris! I'm laughing reading YOUR post! 6 HOURS. I think it would have taken that long for me too. Mine went almost 3 and I had next to no color. I'm going to try again this weekend and I'll let you know what happens. And I have a gas stove.

  7. Wow, I will have to add extra time to cook those onions! I'm planning on making this over the weekend, it looks delicious in your photos. The onions, after all that time, came out perfect!

  8. You were very dedicated to spenind that time to get a good colour on your onions - I was very bored after an hour so I just left them at the point they got to by then. Your soup looks terrific - your dedication paid off.

  9. A round of applause for your dedication, Kris. I don't have 6 hours of patience to spend on onions. That said, yours look dark and wonderful. Mine didn't reach that stage. Still tasted good, but I'll bet yours were leaps and bounds better. Glad you liked it, for all that work!

  10. I cannot believe you cooked those onions for 6 hours. You are a star. But, the proof is in the pudding when your family members come and go and slurp up your soup. Good to the last drop. It looked delicious. I halved the recipe and thought 90 minutes was a loonnnggg time to watch over onions. Wrong!

  11. I don't even know what to say to six hours! I am impressed! Maybe if I had your patience my soup would have turned out a bit better!

  12. I have to agree, Dorie must use a gas range. I cranked up my heat, and it still took over an hour(with nothing burned!), and while I was not so patient as you, I did enjoy this!! Made mine with Penzey's beef soup base (because, plus my onions weren't exactly caramel colored). Really yummy.

    And I love your description of all of the onion dishes you ate as a kid! In our house it was always "you can't go wrong with adding more onions".

  13. You are so patient - that would have driven me crazy. I love your good neighbor line about the cheese :) My mom used to make us eat liver and onions too - it was so horrible, I was having chalky mouth flashbacks.

  14. Wow Kris, I can't believe it took so long for those onions to brown. So glad they finally caramelized for you. Your soup looks wonderful! Glad it was a hit with your family.

  15. My four and a half hours wasn't so bad after all! Yes, it was definitely worth the time. It looks like we were up 'til midnight on different nights making our soup, Kris. :) Your soup looks so delicious!