So, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never actually had the SoHo brasserie version of the recipe I’m about to gush over. But since I’ve made this soup a few times now, I am confident I can brag about the results you can achieve at home.
As temperatures have dipped down into the 20s here in Seattle, I come home from work and crave something piping hot. Preferably with a cheesy crust.
I don’t think it’s a mistake that Balthazar calls the recipe a “gratinée,” since the jam-like texture of the onions, broth-logged bread and cheese crust on top make the soup portion feel like an afterthought. One thing I’ve learned with this recipe (as with many aspect of cooking) is to practice patience. The recipe says to cook the onions down for 30 minutes, which when you’re hungry and stirring the pot seems like an eternity. After about 10 minutes, the onions will become soft and take on a light caramel color, which may lead you to believe you’ve reached that “golden color” referenced in the instructions. Do not stop. I actually set a timer so that I wouldn’t shortchange the onion transformation process (I have a tendency to get a bit impatient). Stir, stir, stir. Don’t let them burn, but let the onions become so caramelized that they seem to almost disintegrate. They should begin to latch onto the wooden spoon when you stir.
Another thing I love about this recipe is the distinct flavor you get from just a few key ingredients. Make sure to hover over the pot when you pour in the port because suddenly your pot of onions has become French onion soup (pardon, gratinée). Because there are only a few ingredients, it goes without saying, great product stands out. And by that I mean cheese. Sure, using pre-made stock with this is just fine, but I really can’t say enough about getting fine cheese. Get yourself to the “good” cheese case, and, if you can, get a Gruyère that’s been aged. I’ve tried it both ways, and the extra money on the fine cheese did not go unnoticed. I also like to throw a few thyme leaves on top of the cheese before broiling, to make it feel more fancy.
Within an hour from the start of onion chopping, we had bubbly onion and cheese bowls that went perfectly with my nightly glass (or two) of red wine. Speaking of which, I found another fun tip from the introduction to the recipe: when you get to the last little spoonful of soup in your bowl (which let’s face it, you will), pour a few drops of red wine in there and sip the last bits. The Balthazar chefs call this Bordeaux tradition chabrot, but I think it’s because the classic soup bowls have a little reservoir in the bottom that a spoon just won’t access.
French Onion Soup Gratinée
Source: The Balthazar Cookbook
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
4 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved through the stem end, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
4 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (I used black pepper)
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 cup port
6 slices of country bread, about 1 inch thick, toasted
2 cups Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onions and, stirring frequently to prevent burning, sauté until they reach a golden color, approximately 30 minutes. Add the butter, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the white wine, bring to a boil, and reduce the wine by half, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 45 minutes.
Preheat the broiler.
Remove the thyme springs and bay leaf, and swirl the port into the finished soup. Ladle the soup into the 6 ovenproof bowls. Fit the toasted bread into the bowls on top of the liquid, and sprinkle 1/3 cup of Gruyère onto each slice. Place under the broiler for 3 minutes, or until the cheese melts to a crispy golden brown. Allow the soup to cool slightly, about 3 minutes, before serving.