Where would cooking be without onions? I find it comforting a reassuring how many recipes start with the instruction to chop up and onion or two. They impart a flavour that is almost impossible to replicate, giving depth and savoury substance to so many dishes.
I find it so hard to believe when anyone says they do not like onions at all. Personally, I really don’t like them raw, garnishing salads, as they are acrid and leave such a lingering aftertaste. Softening onions is not the same as caramelising them; you may have a recipe that does not require any colouring of the onions. this recipe is not one of these. I believe that in soups, curries and stews, slow cooking onions is the way to go, gradually releasing their natural sugars, making them soft, sweet and oozing with so much flavour.
French onion soup is probably the most brilliant way to showcase the simple onion. There are very few other ingredients except onions, so the deeply savoury and satisfying flavour is all down to them. Add some crunchy croutons topped with oozing, melted cheese and you have the best winter warmer in the world.
Softening onions is not the same as caramelising them; you may have a recipe that does not require any colouring of the onions. This recipe is not one of these. This soup relies on time and not a small amount of patience to give the onions a chance to slowly soften, change colour and develop into a tangle of rich, dark and sweet loveliness. You may also think that 1kg of onions is an awful lot of onions for just four servings, but the slow cooking takes a lot of volume out of the onions through water loss as they cook and this amount is perfect.
I use two large pans to make this soup, which seems an unnecessary hassle, but it helps reduce the steam which will stop the onions from caramelising. If you use one pan, this will take far longer. Also, do not worry if the pan starts to turn brown at the bottom (as long as it doesn’t run black!) as this will all add to the flavour of the soup when you deglaze the pans and add the stock. Cooking on a low to medium heat is the key, as there is a big difference between caramelised onions and burnt ones.
French Onion Soup
1kg onions, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tbs rapeseed oil
150ml dry white wine
2 tbs Cognac (optional)
1.5 litres of good beef stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 baguette, sliced
100g grated Gruyere or strong Cheddar cheese
1. Heat 2tbs of rapeseed oil in two separate saucepans, over a medium heat and add the onions. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally until they turn a deep golden brown. This could take up to 30 minutes, so be patient.
2. When the onions are dark brown and sticky, add the white wine to deglaze the pans.
3. Put all the onions into one pan. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Add the beef stock and leave on a low heat for about 30 mins. Add the Cognac if using.
5. When you are ready to serve, toast the baguette slices (2-3 per bowl)
6. Serve the soup into four bowls, add the croutons and top them with the cheese, Toast under the grill and serve immediately.