When I was young and my parents took me and my brother out to eat, I always ordered the french onion soup. I loved the thick layer of cheese melted all over the top and flowing over the edge of the bowl. The scalding hot broth beneath that blanket of bread and cheese always, always burned my mouth, but I loved it.
This version definitely wasn’t created with kids in mind. The base calls for 1/2 cup each of port, white wine, and brandy. But the deeply caramelized onions, rich broth, crusty croutons, and melted cheese make for an utterly delicious meal.
French Onion Soup
Adapted from Staff Meals from Chanterelle
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola or other vegetable oil
5 large onions, peeled and sliced lengthwise (about 5 cups)
1/2 cup port
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 cups beef or chicken broth
Coarse (kosher) salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Crisp croutons (directions below)
Freshly grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese
1. Combine the butter and oil in a medium-large stockpot and heat over low heat. Add the onions and cook, uncovered, until brown but not crisp, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook the onions, uncovered, stirring often, to further brown and caramelize them, 5 to 10 minutes more.
2. Stir in the port, white wine, and brandy and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, uncovered, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and stock [I also added a dollop of Dijon mustard and some dried thyme] and bring to a boil , then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the soup for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve, making sure each portion has a healthy amount of luscious onions. Top with the croutons and grated Parmesan.
Making crisp croutons
To make croutons, trim the crust from day-old bread. I use a good sturdy peasant-style bread, but any kind you have on hand will do. Dice the bread into 1/2-inch cubes and toss with enough melted butter or olive oil (or, best of all, garlic oil) to coat, but not drench, the croutons. Sprinkle lightly with salt, spread out the croutons on a rimmed baking sheet or a jelly-roll pan, and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until just golden brown, about 15 minutes. Halfway through the baking, give the pan a shake to ensure that the croutons are toasting evenly. The secret of good croutons is to make sure they’ve dried out all the way through without becoming too browned. If they’re browning too quickly, lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees. When they’re done, remove the pan from the oven.
Cool the croutons completely and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.