I first learned to make this soup from a 1970s slow-cooker cookbook, in my first year of graduate school when my roommate and I worked our way through all the soups in the book. They were cheap, they could be made ahead to be hot when you got home, and the Pacific Northwest almost demands you eat soup. That recipe relied on a lot of commercially-prepared tricks — bouillon, some sort of gravy seasoning, strange things that I don’t keep in my house and which probably aren’t actually safe. So this recipe relies on you taking the time to build the flavors a little more naturally and gradually.
If you have a safe stock, you can use it, but if you make your own, the flavors will be richer and you have the added bonus of tallow, a by-product of the stock that makes for a flavorful cooking fat. This recipe, as written, should be safe for the majority of allergen sufferers. You will need a safe-for-you bread and cheese substitute, if you want to add those elements at the end.
This is a soup you can make to impress people. Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing about French onion soup that requires great skill, just some time and patience. It’s one of those recipes that people think is harder than it is, and therefore are generally impressed when you make it. Plus, it’s kind of decadent. So play with this a bit and then keep it in your arsenal for the future. If you have no one you wish to impress, maybe just indulge yourself.
Oh, and bonus, in the realm of entertaining OR indulging, it can definitely be made ahead of time, probably up to a week, or it freezes remarkably well. I tend to find French onion soup a lovely treat, but once in a while is enough — I’m not going to eat this all week for lunch. And this makes much more than a few servings, so freezing it to eat later or use in other recipes is great.
Plan on about two hours — one to prep and cook the onions, another to let the soup simmer.
French Onion Soup
- 4 cups roasted beef stock
- 1/4 cup reserved tallow (fat skimmed from the top of the chilled stock) or butter or margarine or oil of your choice
- 3 sweet onions, quartered and sliced thin, about 3-4 cups
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar (check for caramel coloring, which can be allergenic)
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- white bread, toasted, optional (I used this recipe, made without rosemary on top)
- 4 slices Daiya provolone-style cheese, or other safe-for-you cheese sub, optional (see link for ingredients — does contain coconut, and likely corn derivatives)
If your stock is in the fridge, take it out. Let it come to room temperature while the rest of your prep and cooking happens.
Place your stock pot over medium heat, adding tallow when the pot is hot.
When your fat is melted, add the onions. You can do this in two ways — throw them all in, which will take longer, with more stirring, to evenly brown, or do your onions in several batches. I prefer the latter, as you get more even caramelization, but the dump it all in method works fine. Either way, add the salt as the onions turn translucent (they seem to absorb it best at this time). If you’re doing the onions in batches, split your fat and salt accordingly. This will take about 45 minutes or so, and you should stir every 5-10 minutes, depending on how your onions are sticking. You will need to stir more as the onions start to brown, but don’t stir constantly. You have to let the flavor happen.
Once all the onions are browned and caramelized, which will take some time, be patient, add the vinegar, pepper, and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let it simmer for at least an hour.
Serve very hot. If you’re using them, ladle soup over the toasted bread, and topped with faux cheese, allowing the faux cheese to melt. It’s not pretty, but it tastes great.