What I love about traditional French onion soup is that no stock is necessary for this soup. It's just onions, water, seasonings and patience. You're basically making onion stock, flavoring it with salt vinegar and a splash of wine. The most expensive part of this dish is actually the cheese, and it is pricy—but only about $3 per serving.
And there is nothing better to eat on a cold winter night. The following recipe is adapted from my book Ruhlman's Twenty (a James Beard award winner, in fact). It's a swell gift for someone who's learning to cook and loves to cook because I try to break down all of cooking into 20 basic ingredients and techniques.
I'll post process shots after the recipe.
Traditional French Onion Soup
- 1 tbls butter
- 7 or 8 large Spanish onions (or 7 to 8 pounds)
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup sherry
- red or white wine vinegar optional, as needed
- red wine optional, to taste
- 12 ounces Gruyère or Emmanthaler cheese, grated
- Use a large pot, with a capacity of about 7 ½ quarts/7.1 liters, that will hold all the onions. An enameled cast-iron pot will provide the best surface. Place the pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the onions, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, cover, and cook until the onions have heated through and started to steam. Uncover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally (you should be able to leave the onions alone for an hour at a stretch once they’ve released their water). Season with several grinds of pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 200°F/95°C. Place the bread slices in the oven and let them dry completely (you can leave the slices in the oven indefinitely, as the heat is not high enough to burn them).
- When the onions have completely cooked down, the water has cooked off, and the onions have turned amber—this will take several hours—add 6 cups/1.4 liters of water. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Add the sherry. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too sweet, add some vinegar. If you would like a little more depth, add a splash of red wine. I like the onion-to-liquid ratio with 6 cups of water. But if you’d prefer a slightly more delicate soup, add an additional 1 cup/240 milliliters water or to taste.
- Preheat the broiler (be sure you've removed the bread from the oven!). Portion the soup into bowls, float the bread on top, cover with the cheese, and broil until the cheese is melted and nicely browned. Serve immediately.The