If you are trying to impress me, I’d have to warn you against serving French Onion Soup. I am picky about this soup. It’s one of my favorites, but I’d need 10 hands to count the number of times I’ve been disappointed by it. I used to order French Onion Soup at restaurants whenever I got the chance, forever optimistic that this soup would finally be the perfect French Onion Soup. I was wrong. Always.
The broth would be too watery, the cheese too overpowering. The onions like mush. The bread too doughy, no crust, like white-bread soaked in preparation for a meatloaf. Yuck.
Why then, you may ask, did I keep on ordering it? Well, to be honest, this was before I started cooking, while in college, and I actually gave up my hunt for French Onion Soup rather quickly. When I first moved into my apartment, I tried making it once or twice, recipes from cookbooks which will remain nameless, and was similarly disappointed. Burnt out, I gave up F-O-S altogether.
And then two things happened this Christmas. I was given sharp knives (all the better to slice onions with) and a wonderful cookbook by French Chef Paul Bocuse with a phenomenal Onion Soup recipe. I made it the day after Christmas, after a long ride home from Jim’s (not-so-nice to put it nicely) grandma. I was over-tired and very hungry, and skipped a few steps in the recipe (I measured the stock wrong, forgot to brown some flour in the onions and didn’t toast the bread in the broiler before slicing, but just sliced and threw the bread into my toaster) but what resulted was a perfect French Onion Soup. Between every bite—every, single, bite—Jim and I moaned with pleasure and made googly eyes down into our bowls. I felt like I was on the Food Network, but I didn’t have to wonder whether the orgasmic reaction to the soup was real or not—it was right in front of me. I had fallen in love with a bowl of beef stock, onions, cheese, and bread.
When all was said and done, and the recipe for the perfect French Onion Soup was memorized forever, I had to laugh at how simple it seemed. To take a bad French Onion Soup and make it magnificent, all you really needed to do was put the cheese and bread in the soup, as well as on top, and make sure you buy a good cheese. And good bread. And good bouillon. And hey, grab yourself some good onions while you’re at it. It will be worth it.
French Onion Soup
serves 4-6 // adapted from Paul Bocuse’s Onion Soup
- 4 T butter
- 4 medium onions
- 1 T flour
- 4 cups beef bouillon*
- 1/2 loaf good French Bread, sliced into thick slices and toasted
- 2 cups (100g) Gruyere cheese, grated
- 3 tsp. breadcrumbs
Melt 2 T of the butter in a large saucepan, add the onions, and brown lightly. Stir in the flour and when it begins to color, add the bouillon, stirring constantly.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
In a soup tureen or cast iron pot, place a third of the bread. Sprinkle it with a quarter of the cheese, 2 tsp butter, softened, and a little pepper. Do this for another 1 or 2 layers (depending on how big your bread slices are).
Pour soup into tureen, sprinkle with bread crumbs and the remaining cheese. Place in oven for 20 minutes or until bubbly and browned. Serve with a nice, hoppy beer if you want. Enjoy!
*I used Better than Bouillon brand beef bouillon (say that 5 times fast). It was my first time using it, but I doubt I’ll ever use any other beef bouillon again.