Jay's French Onion Soup
Soupe a l'oignon au gratin
This is comfort food if there ever was any! Take your time cooking that huge pile of onions, and you'll be rewarded by their golden caramelized sweetness, a flavor unlike any other.
4-6 large onions
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (or peanut, olive, etc.)
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. corn starch or flour
1 quart plus 1-2 cups beef stock*
1/4 cup cognac*
1 small baguette (French bread)
about 1/3-1/2 lb. gruyere cheese
salt, finely ground black pepper, thyme, bay leaf*
*see notes below
Peel the onions and slice them very finely. Make thin round slices as if you were going to put them on a hamburger, I try for 1/8" thick. If I had a meat slicer, I would use it for this.
Melt the butter in a 6 quart saucepan, add the oil, and put in the onions on low to medium heat. Add the sugar, to help the onions brown. Cook slowly for about 45 to 60 minutes, stirring every 3 to 5 minutes. What starts out as nearly a full pot of white onion slices will reduce to a much smaller amount of sweet golden brown cooked onions. Again, you must cook them slowly to avoid any crisping or charring. I set a little timer for 3 or 4 minutes every time I leave the stove so I won't forget and scorch them.
Meanwhile prepare your croutons. Butter 2 slices of French bread per person, 1" thick, and put them into the oven at 350°, right on the oven rack so they brown on all sides. Once they are nice and browned, turn off the oven and open the door to cool it off a bit, but leave them in there to dry out further.
Coarsely grate the gruyere or swiss cheese into a bowl and set aside.
Add the corn starch or flour and stir for a minute or so to cook, then stir in the stock. Of course you can make a vegetarian version of this by using a vegetable stock instead of beef stock.
Bring to a gentle simmer, and then add the seasonings, about 1/2 tsp salt. and 1/4 tsp. finely ground black pepper to start, then to taste. Add the cognac about 2 minutes before putting the soup into the bowls, to allow the alcohol to cook off a bit.
Place two croutons in each bowl and ladle the soup over them. Then spread a handful of the cheese on top and place the bowls about 5 or 6 inches under the broiler. Watch them carefully until the cheese melts, then serve.
Red wine goes well with this, needless to say...
** NOTES... You can use chicken stock instead of beef stock.... You can use dry sherry or vermouth instead of cognac... You can make a small spice bag containing a sprig or two of thyme and half a bay leaf...