In the fourth and final week of the Winter Cookbook Club, we cooked what I would consider to be one the most flavorful soups yet, but it came with a side of fuss. Perseverance was required in week four, and if you were willing to be patient, you were rewarded with a bowl of satisfying comfort.
Making French Onion Soup, any version, is simple. Nothing difficult whatsoever. Onions are caramelized, broth and seasonings are added, simmering ensues, and then you serve it topped with a hunk of crisp bread and blistered gruyere cheese. However, do not mistake simple for fast or easy.
I could write a novella about caramelizing onions and the various ways cookbook authors represent and teach this process to the reader. Deb comes the closest to most accurately representing how long the process takes and how vital the long cook time is to developing the soup’s flavor. “Cannot possibly imagine spending an hour or longer frequently attending to caramelizing onions? Sigh, I’m sorry, but that’s the whole soup, where all of the magical flavor comes from.” And then, later, in the body of the recipe, “Cook the onions…for about 40 to 90 minutes.”
Appreciative for Deb’s honesty about the necessity of the caramelization process to the finished soup, and impressed by her hefty time estimate, my onions took even longer.
When you caramelize onions, you cannot watch the clock. You can only watch the onions. They are done when they are deeply brown, shriveled, and sweet with caramelized flavor. A higher heat is not a shortcut as this will only saute the onions, which yields a brown color but not a caramelized flavor. The amount of time it will take for your onions to caramelize has a lot to do with your onions and how much water they bring to the equation, and there is not much you can do to change this.
When I made Essential French Onion Soup, despite the warning that the caramelization process could take as long as ninety minutes, my onions took two hours and fifteen minutes to fully caramelize. Below is a screen shot from my phone’s camera roll showing my onions from beginning to end, with a time stamp added after each photo. The photo of the onions in the top left corner is when I began (at 3:38), and the photo of the onions in the bottom right corner is when I finished (5:46). (Pay no attention to the pistachio bundt cake…)
Even though the onions took longer to caramelize than even I expected, I have an idea for how to add French Onion Soup to your weeknight repertoire (it really is that good) without losing your mind. Next time I will caramelize the onions on the weekend while I am busy doing other things such as laundry or cleaning the bathrooms or watching a movie. Once they onions have taken their sweet time reaching the finish line, I will scoop them up and store them in the fridge. Then, on another evening, I would finish the soup and serve dinner in under thirty minutes.
Marathon timing aside, this soup is a winner. Hands down the best version of French Onion Soup I have ever tasted. I want you to enjoy a crock of this buttery velvet broth, flecked with remnants of candy-sweet onions topped with blistered cheese and soup-soaked bread. It is a thing of beauty, and as the saying goes, good things take time.