Rich and deeply flavoured soup. In this classic but simple recipe, onions are cooked low and slow until sweet and caramelised, then simmered in beef stock.
French Onion Soup is a robust dish whose sparse ingredients bely a rich and powerful flavour. When you cook a simple dish with few ingredients, you need all the components to pull their weight. For me, the success of this soup stands on the strength of the beef stock, which should be dark and strong. In fact, the first time I ate French onion soup I remember thinking that a more descriptive name would be beef soup with onion!
- 1 kg onions (about 5 or 6)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I used beef dripping)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup (120ml) dry white wine
- 2 pints (1.2 litres) strong homemade beef or veal stock
- 2 tablespoons cognac
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Prepare the onion. Slice the onions in half and peel. Cut off the top but leave the root intact. Lay each onion cut-side down and slice lengthways, stopping a centimetre or so from the root – this will hold the slices together. Once sliced, chop off the root and discard.
- Caramelise the onion. Heat the cooking oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and turn down the heat to low. Cover with a lid and leave to cook for 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Don’t worry if it feels like there is too much onion, as it will reduce during cooking. After 15 minutes, remove the lid and add the salt and pepper.
- Turn up the heat to medium. Leave to cook, uncovered, until the onion sugars are released and caramelised, stirring every 5-10 minutes. Be patient – the onion is only ready when it has turned a rich brown colour, has significantly reduced in volume, and there are sticky, stringy bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. Expect this to take at least 40 minutes, but probably upwards of an hour. Towards the end of cooking you will need to stir a bit more frequently, as the water content will have evaporated.
- Deglaze the pan. Once caramelised, transfer the onion to a large saucepan and add the beef stock. Meanwhile, deglaze the onion pan – add the wine, and scrape off all the tasty browned bits from the bottom with a spatula. Turn up the heat to high and boil for 1-2 minutes to remove the alcohol. Tip into the saucepan.
- Simmer. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat to low. Simmer gently for one hour.
- Stir in the Cognac before serving. Transfer to soup bowls and sprinkle over the parsley.