Kudos to the French for making great food, but seriously, sometimes I have to wonder if all the fuss is really worth it. I really, really, really love French Onion Soup, but I really, really, really am short of time most days.
Not only is time often a factor in deciding how, or even if, I attempt a recipe, but also resources. I don’t want to have to find a place to store special dishes that would pretty much only be used for that one meal. The traditional French Onion Soup requires special oven-proof soup bowls in order to melt the cheese over the top of the bowl. Of course they don’t stack well, and how many can you put in the oven at a time? Just stop!
I have found that it is possible to ruin a wonderful French Onion Soup because the person preparing it was more worried about melting the cheese perfectly over the top, and neglected the contents underneath. It’s kind of like having a barista that spends so much time decorating a cup of coffee with the foamed milk that the coffee gets cold. But it looks nice, right? Just stop!
I decided I wanted to make French Onion Soup for my Christmas meal this year. I don’t have the special bowls, and I wasn’t about to go buy them. I was serving nine people, and we were actually short one person this year. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? So it dawned on me that I could still have the same great French Onion Soup experience, but do so with a lot less fuss.
In the end, this method worked extremely well, if not better. The soup was part of a larger meal, so it wound up being good that we weren’t getting stuffed with a bunch of gooey (but yummy) cheese right off the bat. I’ve decided I actually prefer this method, anyway, as the soup doesn’t get overwhelmed by the cheese and you actually have soup. Hmmmm… I’m pretty sure it’s called French Onion SOUP, right?
No-Fuss French Onion Soup Recipe
This soup still takes time to prepare, so do plan ahead. Lovely thing about it, though, the soup will keep in the freezer for a good long time. You can also make it in stages to spread out the tasks, no problem. So you can make it whenever the time is right and serve it later. No one will know if you don’t squeal!
- 6 cups sliced yellow onion (about 3-4 large ones)
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced (about 1 generous tablespoon)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 6 cups broth, preferably beef, but chicken or vegetable can be used
- 5-6 6-inch sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
- salt to taste
- sliced French or Italian baguette bread (about 3/4 inch thick)
- shredded Gruyere cheese (you could also use thin slices)
In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil on high until it shimmers. Add onions and stir gently to coat in the olive oil. Turn heat down to medium. Continue to sauté onions, stirring gently and only occasionally*, until they are completely caramelized. This will take upwards of 30 minutes or more, so be patient and use your vent hood if you don’t want your home to totally smell of onion. It’s not bad, just strong!
*As the onions are cooking, they will go through a few transitions. First they will become translucent and softer. They then move on to becoming rather liquid-y as moisture is being forced out. Be careful not to stir too much or too hard at this point or your onions will just become mush. Eventually the moisture begins to cook off and the onions will start to brown. This is the point you want to start watching and stirring, gently, a little more often to ensure that they don’t burn.*
Once the onions are caramelized and a deep golden-brown color (about the same color as the brandy), add in the garlic and gently stir in. Cook for about 1-2 minutes until the garlic is just starting to give off it’s wonderful, garlicky aroma. Then pour in the brandy and cook for a few minutes more, stirring it in gently. Tasting the brandy in advance to ensure quality is not frowned upon here. Just make sure you leave enough for the soup!
**This is a stop and continue later point, if time is short. Just allow the onions to cool a little, then store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. They will be fine for a few days, or even longer if in the freezer. Just reheat and put back in the stockpot before the next step.**
Add the broth, thyme, bay leaves, about 1 tsp. of salt, and pepper to the onions and bring to high heat. Allow to almost reach a boil before turning the heat down to a simmer. The soup should simmer for at least an hour, two is better. You could even put this all into a crock-pot on low heat overnight. The longer time makes a better soup. You want the soup broth to turn the dark brown color the onions had. Take out the bay leaves and any thyme sprigs you can, taste, and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Go easy on the salt as the cheese will also add saltiness to the final product.
**This is another stop and continue point. You now have your soup and can refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve.**
*Turn oven to 350 F. On a flat baking sheet, put a piece of parchment paper and arrange slices of bread so that they are close but not touching. Estimate the number of pieces needed to nearly cover the surface of the soup bowls. Generously sprinkle the grated cheese over each bread slice (or place the slices of cheese). Use more than you think you need, as the cheese will melt down. Put the bread into the oven and heat for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted and just starting to bubble.
*An alternate option that is just as tasty and even easier to do is to just sprinkle the grated cheese directly over bowls of very hot soup. The cheese will still melt and it will still be very, very, very yummy!*
*If going the vegetarian or vegan route, you can toast the bread with a brushing of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt before serving on the soup.*
Make sure the soup is very hot before ladling into your soup bowls. Place the hot bread pieces over each bowl of soup as you serve. Don’t worry if the bread cooled a little, as the hot soup will warm it again. Voila! Soup is served!