I never thought I liked French onion soup. Then I went to France and realised the reason I thought I didn’t like it was because I’d never really had French onion soup. Not a real authentic version anyway. By the end of our trip it was one of my favourite dishes and, on returning to Perth, I was sad at the thought of not being able to pop down to the local bistro and have a bowl of it anytime I wanted.
It’s been sitting in the back of my mind for months, and now that the weather has turned decidedly wintery I thought it was the right time to whip out my apron, grab a bag of onions, and experiment. I’m about as far from a domestic goddess as you can get, so this was a big step for me, cooking something other than the 5 or 6 dishes that I know I can cook to an edible standard.
But what to cook it in?? Surely French onion soup deserved to be cooked in a heavy stone pot? I didn’t own one of those. And what to serve it in? Surely it wouldn’t taste the same in one of my modern squared bowls – it needed to be dished up in a something more traditional! So off I dashed to the Myer stocktake sale.
My dreams of cooking this dish in a real Le Creuset pot dissapated quickly. Yes they were 30% off, but 30% off $600 was still a little more than I wanted to spend on a pot for a dish I might never make again. So I settled for a solid looking Analon non-stick pot with a clear lid and lifetime warranty. Still more than I’d ideally like to spend on a pot but not unreasonable.
Then I found a couple of individual casserole dishes with lids – perfect for serving, and oven safe so I could whack them in with the bread and cheese on top to brown it as the recipe required.
I would probably have made half a dozen other purchases but the pot and dishes were weighing me down and I was on my own, so I reluctantly left with only those.
After my kitchen hand (also known as my husband) chopped a kilo of onions for me (I don’t do onions – they make me weep uncontrollably), I went about heating some olive oil (1 tbsp) with a good dose of butter (50g but I admit I did throw in a little bit extra) – the base of any authentic French dish – browning the onions for 10 minutes with the lid on, and then cooking them with some brown sugar (1 tsp) for about 40 minutes on low heat, stirring often, until they caramelised. Then it was simply a case of adding in some garlic (4 cloves thinly sliced), flour (2 tbsps), thyme, dry white wine (250 ml) and stock (1.3L and it needs to be heated – no I didn’t make my own but maybe next time), and letting it simmer. And then the best bit of all – topping it with thick slices of beautiful sour dough baguette bought fresh from the markets that morning and grating a generous amount of Gruyere cheese over the top before browning under the grill.
The soup was so easy and it actually turned out surprisingly well for a first try. Admittedly I went with one of the easier versions of the dish but I intend to experiment with some different recipes as there are so many variations. Some recipes called for brandy and others for white wine, some for beef stock and others for chicken, some for thyme and others for bay leaves. I’m sure eventually I’ll find the best one!
It’s not the best looking version I’ve seen but the photos in the books are never realistic are they. So here you go – a real life shot of what your French onion soup could look like. (Trust me, yours will probably look better.)