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What makes a good french onion soup?

I have los of frozen beef and veal stock to use. SInce it's really cold here I thought I might make some FOS this weekend. I've never made it and would like to know what to look for in a recipe.

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  1. Besides a great broth, patience with cooking the onions to the right consistency. I haven't made it in a long time but remember wanting to turn the heat up and cook the onions faster instead of going for that nice caramel. You stir for a long time. I'll bet it would be great if you made that no knead bread to go with it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chowser

      2nd this. Don't rush the onions.

      Also use great crusty bread for the crouton and make sure it's nice and dry. Then, a nice provolone or havarti cheese on top under the broiler. Yum.

    2. The Balthazar recipe that I use calls for adding port at the end - adds a wonderful richness to the soup. Sherry would probably be good too.

      4 Replies
      1. re: MMRuth

        I use this recipe too - it's the best! I especially like the inclusion of fresh herbs (thyme, if I recall correctly?) I think it calls for gruyere cheese, though, not provolone or havarti (they're a bit mild). The pep of the gruyere can stand up to the rich flavour of the soup.

        1. re: AmandaEd

          Yes - to both the thyme and the gruyere. I do like to mix in a little fontina with the gruyere though.

          1. re: MMRuth

            Ooh! Good call! Will try that next time!

        2. re: MMRuth

          Bourdain's Les Halles onion soup calls for 2 oz. of port too.

        3. Take your time caramelizing the onions. It is worth it. Also, I agree that a little port/red wine adds depth. I like a bit of thyme as well.

          1. My mother swears its brandy added at the end.

            1. Add me to the patience with the onions camp. The combo of the slow drawn out process with the onions (looking at 30ish minutes) and a great stock will make a great soup. Oh, let's not forget the gruyere. You spent all that time and money on the soup, make sure you add a high quality gruyere. Some resto are cheapening the topping with Fontina. Also melts better, the flavor of the fontina just doesn't cut it like gruyere.

              12 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                Gruyere is definitely the way to go with French onion soup.

                I use dark beer (usually porter) in my recipe for depth, and chop up some mushrooms very fine and cook when the onions are almost done.

                There is a diner in Jersey on rte 17 that used to (don't know if they still do) make french onion soup that was a little sweeter and thicker than your average broth, and the croutons would stay crunchy until you were finished. Been trying to replicate that with no luck recently.

                  1. re: theswain

                    A bottle per batch. A batch is probably 1 gal. of soup.

                1. re: jfood

                  I cooked mine for an hour and a half in a cast iron skillet and they never caramelized. I don't know what I did wrong, unless adding olive oil to the butter was a no no. And you're right, there must be gruyere and grated parmesan on top.

                  1. re: Ellen

                    I don't think the addition of olive oil was the problem; I usually us a mix of butter and olive oil. I don't do a lot of cooking in cast iron, but, from what I know, it should have worked just fine. It usually takes 45-60 minutes for my onions to carmelize, and I've used a variety of onions, all with fairly similar results. I usually use a large soup pot because I start out with a couple of pounds of onions, which have lots of volume. Of course, by the time they're finished, they've reduced considerably. I wonder if the skillet you used allowed you to stir them properly from time to time.

                    1. re: Ellen

                      If you add too many onions at once, they don 't caramelize well. They tend to sweat too much and they steam themselves. Unless you really crank up the heat.

                      1. re: Main Line Tracey

                        Maybe I put in too many onions at once. I used a dutch oven, which is pretty big, but the onions started out about 2 inches deep and never got out of the mush stage. I used white wine and organic beef broth but the flavor I was looking for just wasn't there. I ended up throwing the whole batch out.

                        1. re: Ellen

                          Two inches is nothing...I'm thinking you didn't let it go long enough.

                          1. re: Ellen

                            I had a similar problem with my enameled dutch oven...my best carmelization results have come in an All-Clad stock pot...I wonder if the enamled surface doesn't allow the onions to carmelize properly?

                            1. re: Bababooey

                              I've done mine in my enameled dutch oven without a problem.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                I do mine in an enameled dutch oven too, but I've occasionally had problems with caramelization. I think that sometimes it depends on how much natural sugar the onions contain on their own. When after an hour or so I'm not seeing it I'll add a pinch or two of sugar to start the process and the carmelization will then begin. I've not noticed that the pinch of sugar affects the taste because it's so miniscule an amount. I don't think it has anything to do with my pot being enameled.

                      2. re: jfood

                        30 minutes for the onions and you call that patience. You have no idea what you are talking about. That was fun flaming your own post from 16 months ago.

                        Well jfood made a few bathches of onion soup this past winter after reading many posts on the subject here. And he changed his opinion on the time required for the onions. He now falls into the 2-3 hour camp for a nice sloooooow reduction. He also modified the bread slice to "crouton" sized pieces. He slices some good french bread into cubes and into the oven on one side. Then he takeas a handful on top of the soup and the gruyere on top of that. Mighty good.

                        So thank you for re-energizing this old thread.