>a Lighter Take on French Onion Soup

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French onion soup is one of those quintessential comfort dishes, a deeply satisfying brown savory broth topped with a decadent crust of rich melted cheese. Although you’ll find it on French menus, it’s much more likely that an American will order it rather than a French person. When a Frenchman is craving une bonne soupe, it’s much more likely that he’s imagining a simple potato leek soup or a cold vichyssoise. But both tourists and Parisians will agree that this simple soup is delicious.

The weather was gray and misty today, so I decided to welcome Steve home from coaching Bella’s soccer team with a big bowl of French onion soup. I used a recipe from the Cafe Boulud Cookbook which has a wonderful mix of traditional French and American-French fusion recipes,which never fail to inspire me. His recipe called for substituting toasted baguette topped with marrow for the customary melted cheese topping and adding beef shank to the soup for a little extra substance. I boiled the marrow bones according to the recipe, but they yielded gray, totally unappetizing marrow. Instead, I served the rich soup with toasted bread topped with melting lumps of salted butter. It was much lighter than the customary cheese, more subtle and just as delicious. It would have been nice if the marrow had worked out, but a generous pat of butter topped with a little crunchy Fleur de Sel easily made up for my disappointment.

Be Patient, These Onions Can Still Get Richer and More Caramelized.

The house smelled great from the caramelized onions long after our soup bowls were licked clean. My mouth was tingling from the rich flavors, but I didn’t feel overly full. I have a feeling that this lighter version of French onion soup will be a staple in my fridge as we deal with our first brutal Chicago winter.

Onion Soup with Braised Beef Shank (adapted from the Cafe Boulud Cookbook)
Serves 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 1/2 hours
2 pieces of Beef Shank or other stew meat such as oxtail, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 white or sweet onions
2 quarts of chicken stock
4 tablespoons of salted butter and a little extra for your toasts
2 teaspoons of all-purpose flour
1 cup of dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc
1 bouquet garni herb sack or 1 teaspoon of bouquet garni blend from Penzey’s
a few pinches of fleur de sel 

  1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a soup pot or Le Creuset type pot. Add the beef cubes and sear until browned on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Cut your onions into very thin slices. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to the pot. Melt on medium heat. Add the onions and cook on medium to low heat, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned soft and are a rich amber color. Do not let them burn. This process can take over 40 minutes. Be patient as the onions release their sugar and get caramelized, filling your kitchen with magical smells.
  3. Dust the onions with flour and cook, stirring with gusto for 2 to 3 minutes, long enough to cook off the floury taste. This will give your soup a little more body.
  4. Add the cup of wine and scrub the bottom of the pan to get all the browned bits into your liquid. Bring to a boil and heat until the wine is almost evaporated.
  5. Add the chicken stock and the beef. Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour, until the beef is very tender. Your soup is now ready to serve.
  6. Cut a few thick slices of country bread. Toast them. Top them with a generous amount of good quality European butter, go ahead and treat yourself. Sprinkle a few grains of Fleur de Sel on top and enjoy this celebration of fall soup. You could even blast a little Edith Piaf and pretend you’re a tourist at a little cafe in the Quartier Latin.

3 Responses to >a Lighter Take on French Onion Soup

  1. >Oh! I haven't made french onion soup in forever! Thanks for reminding me of it….though with 90 degree highs the next few days this recipe will have to wait for cooler weather.

  2. >I'll have to try this minus the beef shank. I made onion jam to serve on baguettes last night. The house still smells divine today.

    And brace yourself for that winter.

  3. >My French husband makes an outrageously delicious French onion soup – no meat broth although thatbeef shank sounds wonderful, just onions. I do think that it is THE perfect winter meal! Your recipe looks fantastic!

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