Being a food lover means getting roped into the food practices of other cultures, and we all know that when it comes to food, the French are top-notch curators of classic treats.
A super classic French dish, and one of my absolute favourites, is the onion soup. You can have it alone as a light meal, or have it as a starter for a special dinner. It’s most associated with beef stock, onion, cheese and bread in every mouthful. Mmmm 🤤
What onions to use?
Several types of onions are used, however the brown onion is most common. The red onion provides deeper flavours, and other types such as the white onion can be used too.
The key to this soup is in how you cook the onions. The technique requires you to cook the onions slowly until they begin to caramelise. Usually they won’t brown much in the first 30 minutes, but if after 40 minutes they still haven’t started caramelising, you should turn up the heat slowly to avoid burning.
Things to take note of:
- The most important is patience. It’ll take a bit of time to caramelise the onions. Don’t rush this step or your soup will taste bland.
- Keep scrapping the brown bits at the bottom of the pan for the best flavours.
- Although the recipe usually requires an oven to melt the cheese, a flat-bottomed pan can be used to melt it.
What cheese to use in authentic French recipes?
Traditionally, the cheese used is the Gruyère cheese – this is cow’s milk cheese. Depending on availability or for experimental purposes, other cheese can be used e.g., muenster, provolone, morbier, havarti, fontina, etc.
The important thing is to use one that melts well, and is strong-tasting so as to properly add flavour to the soup.
50g unsalted butter
3 brown onions, thinly sliced
200ml white wine
2 tbsp plain flour
800ml beef stock
Salt and black pepper
A few slices baguette or other soft crusty bread
Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, add the onions and stir until the onions are evenly coated with butter.
Reduce the heat and cook for 30 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring every few minutes to avoid burning.
Add salt and mix well. Turn to medium heat and cook for another 20-30 minutes, until the onions are golden brown. Stir frequently to avoid burning the onions. Don’t run this step. If the onions are not brown or caramelised enough, your soup will taste bland.
Add the white wine and cook for 2 minutes, until most of the white wine has evaporated.
Next, add flour to the onions and cook for 1 minute. Then, add beef stock and thyme.
Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste (personally, I think the taste is strong enough and usually have no need to add extra salt).
When the onion soup is almost ready, preheat the oven to the highest temperature. Then, pour the onion soup into a bowl, put a small piece of bread on top, and place a small cheese on top. Put it in the oven and bake for several minutes until the cheese melts and turns golden brown.
Without an oven or a proper dish that can go into the oven? Try this alternative to finish up:
Prepare the bread: Put the cheese on the baguette slices and pan-fry for 1-2 minutes, with the cheese side facing up. Then, turn the bread upside down and fry for another 30 seconds until the cheese is melted.
Then, divide the onion soup into bowls and put two slices of cheese bread on top, after which you garnish with shredded cheese and thyme.
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