Oven-Caramelized French Onion Soup
There’s only one thing that gets me through the period of vitamin-D-deficiency-induced depression that we call winter: soup. I know it’s not glamorous, even decidedly unsexy, but soup brings me life in these dark days. It’s something about soup’s ability to warm my chilled bones and the ease with which you can make months worth of freezable portions in one fell swoop.
This is my fifth winter in Seattle, and over the last half decade, I have eaten bowl after heaping bowl of French onion soup from Café Presse on Capitol Hill. It’s one of my favorite soups, but I never make it at home because of how time-consuming caramelizing onions is. A recipe that involves two or three hours of standing over the stove doesn’t bring me the sense of ease and enjoyment that I’ve come to expect from my favorite winter hobby.
So, I recently decided to give oven caramelization a try, and by George, it works. I’m not talking about roasting your onions on a sheet tray and calling them caramelized. No, I mean grabbing your best Dutch oven and spending those same 2–3 hours caramelizing them in the oven. This is not a shortcut in overall time, but it is a shortcut when it comes to active time. With this oven technique, you don’t have to stand there stirring onions nonstop. (Although, in the winter, the endorphins can help.) You only have to stir this concoction every 15 minutes, which makes caramelizing these onions a task you can easily do while you do other things, like watching West Wing for the 6th time, or working from home because it’s too cold to leave your house.
French Onion Soup Was Made For Winter Consumption
Caramelizing onions is a tedious task, one that you truly can’t reach without a few hours worth of work. The key is this: caramelize for as long as you possibly can. These onions will probably be okay to use in an hour or so, but your soup will be astronomically better if you can really give these puppies some time to brown. When I made this soup for the first time I caramelized the onions for over two hours in the oven. It was worth it.
Time: 3 hours
Active Time: 30 minutes
Drink: Cru Beaujolais, Oregon Pinot Noir, Schiava from Italy. Lighter-style, juicy reds will shine here.
1. Preheat your oven to 400F
2. Cut your onions into half moons; toss them with olive oil
Peel the onions, slice them down the middle lengthwise, and slice them into half moons about 1/8 of an inch thick.
Get ready to cry, there’s no escaping it.
3. Roast onions in a Dutch oven with the lid on for 2–3 hours; stir every 15 minutes
As you stir the onions, check for burning bits. The onions will release a lot of moisture while they cook, but if they’re are burning, feel free to add a tablespoon or two of water. When the onions are golden brown, soft, and sweet, they are ready.
If the onions look, taste, and smell ready, but there is still a lot of moisture in the dutch oven, you can place the pan on the stove over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid is gone.
4. Deglaze the pan with sherry
Take the pan out of the oven and season the onions with salt and pepper. Then, place the dutch oven on the stove over medium heat and add the sherry. Simmer and stir up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan for 3–5 minutes, until the smell of alcohol is mostly gone.
5. Add broth; simmer for 20 minutes
Add the stock, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and fish sauce. Raise heat to medium-high and bring it to a simmer. Lower heat down to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.
6. Add apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste
Get good and toasty:
7. Cut bread into slices, 2 per person, and toast in the oven at 350F for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown
8. Rub toast with garlic
Cut the garlic clove in half and rub it against one side of the bread.
9. Add cheese and broil
Top each slice of bread with cheese and broil until brown and melted.
Assemble your bowls:
You may have to cut your slices of bread to fit. Ladle in a small amount of soup and top with cheese bread, repeat. Top with final slice of cheese bread, extra cheese if desired, and chives and parsley.
Um, excuse me?
Oven caramelization? That’s not how Julia Child did it. (And Meryl played her in a movie once.)
Nope, it sure isn’t. Julia Child is a goddess, but she also lived in a time when people didn’t have insane distractions. If Julia Child had Netflix, she may have not been the Julia Child we know and love and she may have loved shortcuts like oven-caramelization.
Is it as good as stove-top?
When you weigh time, energy, and taste, we find this method to be worthy of a spot in your kitchen. If you like stove-top caramelization better and have the time, go for it.
Fish sauce and apple cider vinegar?
Oh yeah. I found this tip from Serious Eats a few years back and it’s a game changer. The flavors add lift and depth that elevate the entire dish.
No beef broth?
If you want to use (or make) beef broth, go for it! Same goes for vegetable broth. I like using chicken broth here because I usually have some homemade on hand and homemade chicken broth beats out store-bought beef broth every time.
Why don’t you use those cute ramekins and broil the bread and cheese on top?
Again, you can definitely do that, but I don’t find it to be worth the time, or oven-safe ramekins to be worth the money (or the space in my kitchen). I have found making cheese toasts works just as well and tastes just as good.
What other soups you got?
Right this way.