French onion soup was once so popular that special sets of bowls were made for serving it. They were flameproof so you could put them under the broiler after you’d floated the bread and cheese on top of the soup, and had handles so you could pull them out easily. Although the dish has fallen out of style, it’s still delicious — and fairly simple. It does take time and patience, so you may want to save it for your day off.
Most recipes for French onion soup are based on beef broth, but long ago, in Terry Thompson-Anderson’s classic Cajun-Creole Cooking, I found one that uses half beef and half chicken. The author says that the flavor combination, along with the caramelized onions, makes for something special, and she’s right. Ms. Thompson-Anderson adds a little sugar to help the caramelization along, and also thickens the soup with flour, but I was aiming for something simpler and left out those steps. The onions caramelize naturally, and the soup thickens slightly as it cooks down.
If you don’t have one of those special sets of bowls, it gets a little tricky to finish off with toasted bread and cheese on top. You can pre-grill it, or just float it in the soup and skip the broiling stage, though you’ll miss a little of the special flavor that way.
The soup may not be so popular anymore, but instant versions of it are everywhere. Most people, it seems, use them for making chip dip or for flavoring meats in cooking. They’re handy, but the problem with most of them is too much salt. (Actually, I don’t find that a problem, but my family does, so . . .) If you’re setting out to make soup, it’s worth it to take the time and use fresh onions. (Notice I don’t say you have to use homemade broth. Fresh-cooked onions have a way of making other foods taste fresh.)
- 1 large onion
- 1 small onion
- 2 cups beef broth
- 2 cups chicken broth
- Shredded cheese*
- Dice the onions fairly small (or cut them into thin rings, but that makes for messier eating).
- Heat 2 tablespoons cooking oil over medium low flame.
- When it’s hot, add the onions.
- Stir frequently until they’re lightly browned and softened (about 15 minutes).
- Add the broths and bring just to a boil.
- Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. The soup will reduce, and the onions will soften up more.
- Serve with mild cheese sprinkled on top, or with toasted cheese on bread.
- Choose a mild cheese to top the soup.