I can't remember the last time I had french onion soup, but it was a really long time ago. It's not easy to find french onion soup in just any restaurant, especially here in Sydney. I found a recipe for it in Rick Stein's French Odyssey, and it's basically caramelized onions simmered in beef stock with some herbs, served with a thick slice of crusty bread with melted Gruyere over the top.
I didn't have larger oven-safe soup bowls, so I used these ramekins instead, which worked just fine for smaller servings. I made this over the weekend on a pretty hot day, and it seemed to take forever for the onions to caramelize, but it did eventually, after about half an hour. I don't know what's worse, standing over a hot stove stirring the onions for what seemed like eternity, or peeling and slicing a mountain of onions with my eyes squinted, trying to prevent the onion fumes from attacking my tear ducts any further. But in the end, I got what I have been missing for a long long time - a perfectly simple yet robust and delicious french onion soup! And fortunately I made enough for the next day as well, and that makes it all worth the effort!
Here is the recipe:
French Onion Soup
Adapted from Rick Stein's French Odyssey
700g brown onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp caster sugar
200ml dry white wine
4 cups beef stock
Bouquet garni of bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks
1 cup water
4 thick slices French bread
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese
Salt and black pepper
Heat butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and sugar and stir regularly for 20-30 minutes until onions are softened, browned and caramelized. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add beef stock and bouquet garni, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add about 1 cup water as the stock may have reduced slightly during simmering, and the beef stock may overpower the sweetness from the onions. Remove the bouquet garni, and season the soup with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 150C. Bake the slices of bread in the oven for 20-30 minutes until they are dry but not browned. Remove and increase the oven temperature to 220C.
To serve, place a slice of bread in each of 4 deep oven-proof bowls, and ladle the soup over it. Cover the top of the soup with at thick layer of cheese. Place the bowls on an oven tray lined with baking paper (to catch any spills) and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbling. The soup should be served scalding hot.