From the first time I had this soup years ago at the old Bistro Burgos in Makati, I fell for it. The last time I had it was at Johnnys Cafe in Omaha which was sometime last year when Spouse and I were on a business trip there. Steak houses should have the best onion soups since they have all the ingredients to make the perfect beef stock. Johnny’s is an institution in Omaha, having been around since 1922 – that’s a lot of experience churning out steaks and onion soups. They are located right in the middle of where the old stockyards used to be and have this 1950’s, stepping back in time feel about the place. If you watched Jack Nicholson’s “About Schmidt”, you might remember the restaurant where Schmidt’s retirement party was held – that was Johnny’s Cafe. They serve fantastic, perfectly aged steaks and the best onion soup I’ve ever had – before this one of course.
I based this recipe on one from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” cookbook. There were a couple of changes to her original recipe though. Like using gruyere cheese instead of Swiss or parmesan and using red wine instead of white. However, I heard somewhere that a good onion soup has to start with a good beef stock, preferably made from scratch, so I started with that. This soup was actually cooking the day before with that rich brown stock, a recipe from the same cookbook.
Ohhhh, but it was so worth it. Humility aside, this really was the best onion soup I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. It has to be attributed to the fact that the recipe from Julia Child was very well written and explained. It couldn’t have been my kitchen skills. There were actually times during the cooking when I mentally chided myself for thinking I could pull it off but I prodded on like a dutiful student.
Let me clarify, I hate to brag….but this is one dish I never even considered making myself before I started this blog. It was so good, it was all I had for dinner because I didn’t want any other flavors in my mouth. And what more could anyone ask for? Imagine – a perfectly broiled gruyere crust hiding all the goodness underneath: the croutons now softened with the rich broth, then the sweet and soft, browned onions in that rich, dark brown brew with just the hint of red wine….oooh la la….I’m turning French as I write this!
It does take a lot of time as you’ll see in the recipe, which is why it won’t be a regular in our household. The fact is, I can now say I have made it, using no shortcuts and no canned broths and it turned out darned good. And that, my dears, makes me feel like a very accomplished unofficial cook.
French Onion Soup:
5 cups thinly cliced onions
3 tbsp. butter
1 tb. oil
Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in a covered, heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan for 15 minutes.
Uncover, raise heat to medium and stir in a teaspoon of salt and 1/4 tsp. sugar. Cook for 30-40 minutes stirring frequently until the onions have turned an even, deep golden brown.
Sprinkle in 3 tbsps. of flour and stir for 3 minutes. At this point, don’t panic. The bottom of your pot will look like a mess but it’s okay, it will get better – really.
Off the heat, blend in 2 quarts of boiling, brown stock. Add half a cup of dry, red wine (I Used Merlot cause it was all I had, but it worked really well) and season to taste with salt and pepper. The taste won’t be great at this point, it’s alright, it’ll be fine. Simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.
Place 12 to 16 slices of French bread cut 1 inch thick, in one layer in a cookie sheet and and bake in a preheated 325F oven for about 30 minutes, until it is thoroughly dried and lightly browned.
Halfway through the baking, brush each side with olive oil and rub with a piece of garlic.
Ladle your hot soup into individual oven-proof bowls or ramekins. Cover the top with a piece of the toasted French bread. Then top with grated gruyere cheese – as much or as little as you want. Place all your bowls on a jelly roll pan and bake for 20 minutes in a 325F oven.
Take the bowls out. Set your oven to broil and put back your bowls of soup to lightly brown the cheese topping. This will only take a few seconds so watch those tops. Serve immediately.