One of the oldest recipes in my collection is for Soupe à l’oignon Gratineé.  It’s a loose recipe that was neatly hand-written by a friend’s mother more than two decades ago.  It was one of the first ‘real’ dishes that I ever attempted and has been a staple for years.  Why change perfection?

This recipe below is from Cook’s Illustrated and it caught my interest because it roasts the onions in the oven instead of doing it stovetop.  There is a different (not better – but different) intensity to this soup.  The next time you are making French Onion Soup for a crowd using this method avoids having to watch and stir. 

My notes: I buttered my Dutch oven instead of spraying it.  I used an off-dry sherry instead of dry.  The recipe can be easily adjusted to feed more people.  The soup base freezes well – so make lots.

The Best French Onion Soup

From: Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 6

For the best flavour, make the soup a day or 2 in advance. Alternatively, the onions can be prepared through step 1, cooled in the pot, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe.

   • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 3 pieces
   • 6 large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices
     (Make sure you get Yellow)
   • Table salt
   • 2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
   • 1/2 cup dry sherry
   • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
   • 2 cups beef broth
   • 6 sprigs fresh thyme , tied with kitchen twine
   • 1 bay leaf
   • Ground black pepper
Cheese Croutons
   • 1 small baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
   • 8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)

For the soup:
1. Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with a nonstick cooking spray. Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, for 1 hour (the onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove the pot from the oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring the onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
3. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pot bottom is coated with a dark crust, roughly 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary. (Scrape anything that collects on spoon back into onions.)
4. Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping the pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
5. Stir in the broths, 2 cups of water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot.
6. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.

For the croutons:
1. While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven until the bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

To serve:
1. Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyère. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.