Chef Andy: Baked French Onion Soup is for everyone
By Andy Mueller
Although nearly impossible to pinpoint its exact origin, Baked French Onion Soup definitely started in France and probably started seeing its popularity rise somewhere around the 14th century.
Known as the soup of the poor, its inexpensive ingredients, including caramelized onions simmering in beef broth, topped with toasted bread, were accessible to almost every walk of life at the time.
It may have originated as a way to put a warm, hearty meal on the table for little money, but this soup has been enjoyed by both kings and paupers since its beginning.
The addition of a heavy shred of parmesan cheese and a quick trip under the broiler, Baked French Onion Soup was quickly elevated to a level of decadence and served in just about every restaurant in France to this day.
Because of the few ingredients needed to make this dish, it’s imperative each of these ingredients is of the highest quality and prepared the right way to extract maximum flavor in the finished dish.
Obviously, onions are the main ingredient, and many soups simply call for them to be diced and added to a soup or broth, and you’re done.
With these onions, it is crucial to cook them to a caramelized state over low to medium-low heat over a long period of time.
This, along with regular stirs to bring the brown bits (fond) off the bottom of the pot, is the most important step in the cooking process.
It’s a somewhat diligent process as there is a chance these onions can burn and adversely affect the flavor of the soup.
I use a mixture of both beef stock and chicken stock to balance out the flavor profile and create another layer that adds to the overall harmony of the soup.
Make sure the stock or base you are using is of excellent quality and then have fun with the different types of cheese you can use to melt on top before service.
Gruyere is a common cheese used in France, but if you can’t find it, an aged provolone, Swiss, mozzarella or a combination of any will work just fine.
Try this recipe for my version of Baked French Onion soup and have a taste of a soul-warming soup everyone has enjoyed for more than 700 years.
Baked French Onion Soup
In a 6 or 7 quart Dutch oven or other heavy bottom pan over medium to medium-low heat. add:
• 1 tablespoon butter.
When butter starts to bubble add:
• 6 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced the long way from tip to stem.
While stirring occasionally, let the onions cook down, then start to brown and caramelize.
This process can take up to an hour. Do not allow the onions to burn. Adjust heat if necessary to prevent this from happening.
When the onions are nicely browned add to the pot:
• 1 tablespoon dry sherry.
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.
• 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic.
• 1 bay leaf.
• 1 teaspoon brown sugar.
Stir and cook for several minutes then add:
• 4 cups beef stock.
• 2 cups chicken stock.
Bring to a simmer. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.
Ladle soup into oven-safe soup cups or bowls.
Top with toasted croutons or a piece of toasted bread cut the same diameter as the cup, top with gruyere, Swiss, provolone or a little of all three, then place on a baking sheet in the oven and turn on the broiler until the cheese is nicely browned and melted.
Top with a sprinkle of paprika if you wish, and serve piping hot.
Chef Andy Mueller is owner/chef of Galley 57 Supper Club in Bellevue – galley57.com.