Cold weather, hot soup, you know the drill. I'm a soup and sandwich fiend, and the recent turn in weather continues to inspire the use of more soup recipes. This particular soup is special though and I try to make it at least once a year. I do, after all, have bowls that are used just for this purpose. The venerable and anachronistic French Onion Soup (FOS). We've probably all tried one at some point in our lives, more likely than not in some deli or severely outdated restaurant. It was on nearly every menu in the 1980's but now it has fallen out of favour and is rarely seen on menus today. I've had many mediocre and a handful of exceptional versions. All I know is that a better version takes good cheese (i.e. not mozzarella), a bit of booze and some loving care to slowly caramelize the onions.
About 8 years ago I watched a 30 Minute Meals episode where Rachael Ray made her 'Oh So Good French Onion Soup'. I was intrigued by the fact that she used a dry sherry in her recipe and wondered what flavour that would add to the soup. I've had FOS before which lacked that certain 'je ne sais quoi', so I was willing to bet it had something to do with the lack of of alcohol. I had discussed my interest in trying this FOS recipe with a family member, who then kindly bestowed on me a set of four (extremely retro) FOS bowls (which I still use today). Armed with the recipe and appropriate serving ware, I happily set forth to make my first FOS. It's hard for me to articulate what made this soup so delicious, but the richness of the caramelized onion and beef broth contrasted so nicely with the fresh thyme and dry sherry (fino) which had a crisp, tang and light sweetness. A definite keeper.
I've been making this soup every winter since. I know there are many versions out there and I am curious about the ones that use different types of alcohol (calvados, dry white wine, brandy) but I am hesitant to ditch my tried and true recipe. Not to mention the fact I have no idea what else to do with my bottle of Sherry. Suggestions, anyone?
The original recipe can be found here. My modifications are listed below:
- I halved the recipe to serve two people but rounded up, using 4 cups of broth and keeping the full 1/2 cup of sherry. This is because I used 3 really large onions and I figured the recipe could use the extra liquid.
- I used a mandolin to slice the onions quickly and uniformly. It did not prevent me from shedding bitter, burning tears while I worked. Blasted onions!
- Try to caramelize the onions as much as possible before adding the broth. The darker the caramelizing, the deeper the flavour. I <3 Caramelized onions
- My beef stock didn't taste right (flat, flavourless, likely expired) so I chucked it and used chicken stock instead. I thought it worked well.
- I used a block of Gruyere and grated it by hand instead of using the pre-grated kind. I believe it tastes better this way but it might just be complete snobbery on my part.
- Don't skip the bay leaf, add two instead and try to toss them out before the soup is broiled in the ramekins.
- I doubled the fresh thyme, but that might be too pungent/medicinal for some people so proceed with caution.
- I put my baguette slices under the broiler (turning once) to toast, which helps prevent it from getting too soggy, too quickly.