I've always thought that French Onion Soup was something that was reserved for eating out. I've just never thought about making it at home because it seemed like an upscale, elegant type of food that was reserved for restaurants. Prior to making it, I actually stumbled on the idea of it while making some beef stock at home. I was rummaging through the freezer when I pulled out a beef bone that I'd brought home from leftover steak. I'm sure I used the remaining meat from the steak to go with eggs on the weekend and then tossed the bone in the freezer to deal with later.
I pulled the bone out of the baggie and tossed it in a pot of water. I added a 5 finger pinch of salt and 4 or 5 grinds of the pepper mill. I turned the burner on medium until the water was practically boiling and then I tuned it down a bit. I let the bone cook all day. The stock reduced by half and smelled incredible. I gave it a taste and got the subtle notes of the steak, a bit of rosemary, maybe where the steak had been garnished and the richness of the roasted meat that had once been there. It made me think of the silky smooth onion soup. I could almost see the lightbulb above my head. I went to the refrigerator and found a small block of swiss cheese, a few different types of onions and only two slices of sourdough bread. I could make it work.
I grabbed the onions and lined them up on the counter. I had a red, a yellow and some scallions. I grabbed a garlic clove as well. I chopped half of the red, half of the yellow and two scallions. I put some olive oil in a pan and turned it on low. I added the onions to the pan along with a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper.
I added a splash of Worcester Sauce to the beef broth and turned on the oven. I didn't have any thyme so I snipped some fresh rosemary, oregano and sage. I diced it and added it to the stock as well. I then diced the bread into bite-sized cubes, put them on a pan and put them in the oven. I only put the oven on 200 degrees because I wanted the bread to turn to croutons rather than toasting them and having the center still soft. Cooking the bread slow will dry it out.
The secret to caramelizing onions is to cook them very slowly. It hit me that this whole dish was to slow cook everything. The bone had to cook all day to make a rich broth. The croutons had to cook slowly to dry the bread out and make it nice and crunchy and the onions had to slow cook to let out all of the sweetness without crisping them. I let the onions and bread take their time and when they were done, I removed the bread from the oven and the onions to a back burner. When the bread cubes were cool enough to handle, I rubbed them with the garlic clove and drizzled just a tad of olive oil and a tiny dash of salt over them. I love croutons so I could've eaten all of them just as they were.
I strained the beef broth to remove the bone and any bits of fat or bone fragments that fell apart from the stock. I added the onions to the broth and let them sit until it was time for dinner. I spooned the onion broth mixture into two bowls and dropped in the bread cubes. The swiss cheese that I had was a thin block so I wasn't sure once I sliced it, if it would stay afloat to melt under the broiler. I found a large block of cheddar and remembered that one of my most favorite French Onion Soups was made with both cheddar and swiss. I grabbed it and sliced off two large squares and several slices of the swiss. I turned on the broiler and gently laid the cheese on top of the soup. I placed it under the broiler and snipped some fresh chives to place on top as a garnish. I removed the soup from the oven once it was bubbly and topped with the chopped chives.
French Onion Soup is no longer an 'only at the restaurant' item. It was rich and silky smooth with the stringy cheese and soft bread and buttery onions. I was quite proud.