When I’m back in Dallas, the first thing I want is a taco. Likewise, within hours of landing at Charles de Gaulle, after I’ve had a double espresso and a pain au chocolat from the boulangerie across the street and unpacked my bags, I want onion soup.
Especially when it’s cold outside, as you’ve no doubt heard me rant about lately.
X and I have been going to the same neighborhood brasserie for onion soup for years, Le Malakoff, which happens to have one of the nicest views of La Tour E. We came here when I first moved to Paris more than five years ago, and after trying soupe à l’oignon at other places, we both decided that this was one of the best. A five-minute walk from our apartment, it’s certainly the most convenient.
Rose likes this place, too. The waiters bring her bowls of ice (she thinks it’s a treat), and they all stop by the table to say bonjour. (Cowgirl Tip: The quickest way to melt icy Parisians is to have a cute dog in tow.)
The truth is I’ve been lazy when it comes to onion soup. I haven’t even tried to make it because it’s just right there, down the street. But when a friend of mine in Dallas told me recently that he wanted to make some, I decided to get into the kitchen and figure it out.
Not that there’s much figuring to do. Onion soup is one of the simplest of soups around. Just stock, onions, along with some bread and cheese.
But for the soup to be worth anything, you must make your own stock. And you must take the time – over an hour – to slowly caramelize the onions. If you don’t, just forget it. It’s not going to taste like it should. It won’t have the richness – or the deep brown color – that onion soup is known for.
So do what I do. Make your stock one day (which sounds more daunting than it is –after you roast the bones and toss them in the pot, it’s just a matter of letting it simmer for an afternoon), and make your soup the next. Divide and conquer.
Whatever you do, do not rush this. Know that it’s a two-day process and just leave it at that. When you taste that first spoonful of cheesy, oniony goodness, your patience will be rewarded. You might even even feel just a little bit French.
But please don’t let me catch you in the Kroger wearing a beret.
Veal (or Beef) Stock
Makes about 8 cups/2 quarts/2 litres
- 4 or 5 pounds of veal/beef bones (knuckles are good, as are bones with marrow)
- 6 quarts/litres of water
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 3 or 4 large chunks
- 2 celery stalks, chopped into 3 or 4 pieces
- 1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
- 4 cloves of garlic, mashed
- 4 bay leaves
- a few sprigs of fresh parsley
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- about 20 peppercorns
1. Preheat your oven to 400°F/200°C. Toss your bones into a roasting pan, and let them cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until the meat’s brown and caramelized. Watch this carefully — you don’t want to burn your bones.
2. Put your bones into a soup pot; then put your roasting pan over two burners and turn the heat to medium. Pour a little water in the roasting pan and with your wooden spoon, scrape and scrape until you get all of the crusty browned bits off of the bottom — then pour this into the soup pot with the bones.
3. Go ahead and add the rest of the water along with the rest of the ingredients and turn the heat to medium-high. Let this come to a boil — what you’re doing is extracting all of the impurities — and with a deep spoon, gently scoop out the foam that rises to the top without stirring the liquid. Once you’ve gotten all of this off of the surface, it’s time to turn the heat down to a simmer and either slightly cover or leave the cover off altogether and let this cook for 4 to 6 hours, undisturbed and unstirred, so you’ll have a nice clear broth. Let this cool and then pour into your containers and refrigerate or freeze. (Before using, you’ll just need to remove the thin layer of fat that’ll settle on the surface.)
Cowgirl Tip: I like to store all of my stocks in 4-cup/1 quart/1 liter and 2-cup/1/2 litre containers, because most soup recipes call for these amounts.
Soupe à l’Oignon (French Onion Soup)
Makes 4 to 6 large servings
- 3 pounds/1 ½ kilos of onions (I use yellow onions), sliced in half-moons
- ½ stick/60 grams of butter
- sea salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon of flour
- 2 quarts/2 litres of veal or beef stock, recipe follows
- 4 to 6 slices of country bread, such as Pôilane, or you may use baguette slices
- about 8 ounces/225 grams of Comté, Gruyère or Swiss cheese, grated
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1. Get out your biggest skillet and toss in your butter and onions. Turn the heat to medium-low and let this cook for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring frequently — don’t leave the kitchen, people! if your onions burn, your soup is toast! — until you reach a color that’s as a deep, dark caramel, without burning. When the onions hit the right hue, sprinkle the flour all over them, continuing to stir and slowly add some of the stock, stirring, stirring, stirring, so you don’t get flour lumps.
2. Pour your onions into your soup pot and add the rest of your stock. Turn the heat to medium-high, cover, and let this come to a boil. Once it does, reduce the heat to low and let it cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it reduces by about an inch.
3. Preheat your oven to broil and pop the bread in the toaster.
4. Ladle your soup into the bowls, top with a piece of toast and a handful of grated cheese. Slide into the oven and let cook till bubbly. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and serve immediately.