French Onion Soup seems to be one of those dishes that I’m highly inclined to order at a restaurant but never seem to make at home. Of course when I think about some of the terrible versions of this soup I’ve experienced in various establishments it’s honestly a wonder that I’ve ever bothered to eat it again. Over seasoned or bland, too much cheese or too little, the top either undercooked or burned beyond recognition; these dish disasters seem to only run the balance from bad to worst. So I decided to try my hand at making a French Onion Soup recipe of my own at home. The recipe I chose comes from one of my favorite Brits and first Celebrity Chef crush, Jamie Oliver.
If I’m remembering correctly The Naked Chef was one of the first cooking programs that I made a concentrated effort to tune into. When Jamie had his mates over for a traditional post-drinking English breakfast I believed that they were truly hungover and looking forward to tucking into a big plate of buttery roasted potatoes. He was the king of the plausible story-line driven episode.
Flash forward to present day and I have to say I simply find these contrived outings and gatherings portrayed on practically every Food Network program to be overly saccharine and simply annoying. For example, Giada DeLaurentiis, whom I normally love to death now prepares food to take to the Polo Field or to feed her hungry friends who have been busily recording their new album all week. Please raise your hand if you spend your Saturdays at the Polo Fields. Yeah….I thought so. But I digress.
What first attracted me to Jamie’s recipe for English Onion Soup was the huge array of onions that he incorporated into the dish. Red Onions, shallots, leeks, and the traditional white onion all make an appearance. I think I chopped onions for half an hour. Of course if I had any sort of proper knife skills this could have been accomplished much more quickly and with fewer tears. Even Watson, my nightly kitten kitchen helper (whether I want one or not), looked a bit red-eyed by the time I finished.
Even though I had watched Jamie banging around frantically in his rustic kitchen set, quite probably provided by the lovely BBC, I still had my doubts about the mountain of onions I added to the melted olive oil and butter bubbling in my largest stock pot. Initially I could barely stir them but eventually they slowly began to melt down into a sweetly fragrant and colorful soup base.
While the smell of this soup cooking borders on the sublime there is nothing quite like the first steaming spoonful to truly get you excited. The onions are complemented beautifully by the influx of sage and garlic and the cap of crusty bread and sharp cheddar simply melts in your mouth. This recipe yields a tremendous amount of soup so be prepared to eat it for several days. However, I promise that you won’t get sick of it. Even after having it for lunch three days in a row I loathed to throw out the last bits, but I have a three day leftover rule that I’m fairly strict about so into the disposal it went. Now I’m simply biding my time until I can tearfully compose another fragrant batch and enjoy the same amazing flavors all over again.
Good knob of butter (Erin’s Note: I used 4 tablespoons. That seemed like a “good knob”).
Handful fresh sage leaves, 8 leaves reserved for garnish
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
5 red onions, peeled and sliced
3 large white onions, peeled and slice
3 banana shallots, peeled and sliced
11 ounces leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups good-quality hot beef, chicken or vegetable stock
8 slices good-quality stale bread, 3/4-inch thick
7 ounces freshly grated Cheddar
Put the butter, 2 glugs of olive oil, the sage and garlic into a heavy bottomed, nonstick pan. Stir everything round and add the onions, shallots and leeks. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a lid on the pan, leaving it slightly ajar, and cook slowly for 50 minutes, without coloring the vegetables too much. Remove the lid for the last 20 minutes, the onions will become soft and golden. Stir occasionally so that nothing catches on the bottom. Having the patience to cook the onions slowly, gives you an incredible sweetness and an awesome flavor, so don’t be tempted to speed this up.
When your onions and leeks are lovely and silky, add the stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. You can skim any fat off the surface if you like, but I prefer to leave it because it adds good flavor.
Preheat the oven or broiler to maximum. Toast your bread on both sides. Correct the seasoning of the soup. When it’s perfect, ladle it into individual heatproof serving bowls and place them on a baking sheet. Tear toasted bread over each bowl to fit like a lid. Feel free to push and dunk the bread into the soup a bit. Sprinkle with some grated Cheddar and drizzle over a little Worcestershire sauce.
Dress your reserved sage leaves with some olive oil and place 1 on top of each slice of bread. Put the baking sheet into the preheated oven or under the broiler to melt the cheese until bubbling and golden. Keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t burn! When the cheese is bubbling, very carefully lift out the baking sheet and carry it to the table. Enjoy.