I am chasing the winter blues away with the most local soup ever, although it’s named French onion soup, it’s really not French at all, what it is however is made entirely with the contents of my food shed + a splash of dry sherry from Australia. This is my hands down all time favourite soup! BUT only when done properly… have you ever been served watery broth with a handful of salad croutons from a box and a sprinkle of the plastic powdery parmesan cheese at some restaurant? Gawd what a sad affair that is.
I decided to make this soup because I had lots of yellow onions, local cave aged cheese, a deep craving, and the only herb I have still growing is thyme. It seemed a natural. We are blessed with wild creeping thyme which covers a HUGE amount of grass and roadside at my homestead, and when I built a herb spiral in my garden a couple years ago, I added a big shovelful of this hearty thyme to the base of the spiral. As it turns outs the herb spiral is cozied up just below our walk through cold frame , and I have about 2 sq ft of still living fresh green, un-snowblanketed thyme! Which is pretty fabulous because I actually didn’t dry any thyme this year, so I have been enjoying gentle grazings of this robust fresh herb on occasion.
I used a new technique for making French onion soup this time and that is to oven roast the onions in butter (which coincidentally was churned by my neighbour) slowly for hours the day before putting the soup together. I also decided at the same time to boil down a batch of dinosaur sized cow bones, that I hauled home from the latest down the road butchering day. Originally I intended on giving them to the dogs, but when I realized I was out of my home-made beef stock and had no bouillon cubes left… the answer was obvious, and the house smelled divine for the whole weekend as I bubbled away bones, celery, onions, parsley and garlic to yield about 2 quarts of hearty stock.
You could of course do this all in one day, and use tetra pack stock (mushroom would be perfect for a veggie version), but It sure added to the appeal of this dish for me to draw the process out, build the flavours and use my friends cow bones to brew up another supply of beef stock for my freezer!
On the rare occasion I make a pot roast, I often make this soup the next day mainly because you end up with so much meaty beef stock and I always think this is the perfect venue to use it up in (only after making leagues of gravy of course). I also tend to use a slow cooker to make onion soup, but this weekend, I set out to soak up the onion-y steam and spend some time being very domestic, tending to the stove and the fire (while my partner was up in the forest cutting down dead standing tree’s to keep us cozy through the last push of winter), It also seemed a natural fit.
Regardless of if you do this in two days or one, in a pot or in the slow-cooker the first step is certainly the most important to adding a rich deep caramel colour and flavour to this soup.
In a well buttered heavy bottomed oven safe pot add:
1/4 cup of butter
8 medium onions sliced 1/4″ thick
two sprigs of fresh thyme
Roast at 300 for about 4 hours, in which time you only need to stir it twice.
Remove from oven and place on stove top over medium high heat
Paying close attention and stirring very little you want to create a deep caramalized char on the bottom of the pan, once it is all deep brown you want to de-glaze with 1/4 cup of sherry. stir all the golden bits into the liquid and essentially clean the bottom of the pot with your spatula. Do this 2 twice more but on the last time use 2 cups of stock instead of sherry. at this point you can transfer the pot to a slow cooker or the fridge or keep right on making the soup.
In to the pot add:
6 extra cups of stock (beef is ideal, but as I said already mushroom would be nice too)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp sherry
2 additional springs of thyme
Simmer for at least 30 miutes (if cooking on stove top)
To make this soup authentic and wonderful you need some oven safe soup bowls. Portion hot soup into individual bowls, top with a thick cut slice of sourdough rye bread, cover with a good amount of gouda, or another aged and robust cheese, sprinkle with fresh parsley and broil for about 5 minutes, or until you can’t take it any more and you have to dive in!