French Onion Soup — Restaurant Good, Home Made Easy
I’m a sucker for French onion soup.
Rich and fragrant, ooey-gooey cheesy, intensely flavored, and most of all, familiar. I try it whenever I find it on a menu, every single time. About half the time I’m disappointed. I’ve tried several times to create a good-as-a-restaurant French onion soup, with mixed results. I’ve made some pretty good ones and some pretty bad ones. Alas, the good ones are so labor intensive that I just don’t have the time, or the inclination, to repeat them. Complicating the problem is that we don’t eat beef around here, so making this pot-o-gold has become a real challenge.
So did I give up? You know better. I decided to create my own recipe. Trial and error usually works, so long as I’m willing to be patient. And dogged.
My rules were simple. It had to be good–restaurant good. It had to be vegetarian. And it had to be easy to make. Did I mention that it had to be good?
The trick is to layer lots of flavors in perfect balance, and know what flavors work well together. It turns out I know these things; I learned them from my cooking mentor Martin Betonio, the Filipino kitchen magician from Miami Beach.
And I make it in a slow cooker.
So here then, is my vegetarian easy-to-make, restaurant-good French onion soup.
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large sweet onions, halved and sliced
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
2 Knorr-Swiss vegetable bouillon cubes (Do not substitute other brands!)
6 ounces dry sherry
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
7 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1 baguette, sliced into ¾-inch slices and toasted under the broiler on both sides
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
Fresh parsley, coarsely minced, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large, heavy stock pot over medium-high heat; add the onions and paprika and saute, stirring occasionally, until transparent. It’s okay if they brown, but don’t let them burn. Add the sugar and mash the bouillon cubes into the onions, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the sherry and stir, scraping any brown bits from the bottom, until the pot is deglazed.
Pour the onion mixture into a crockpot. Add the stock, soy sauce, bay leaf, thyme, and black pepper, cover and cook on high for six hours, then low for two more, or eight -10 hours on low. Remove the bay leaf and adjust for salt and pepper, and add a bit of sherry, if desired.
To serve, ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls, place 2 toasted rounds on the soup, then top with 2 tablespoons each of mozzarella and then Gruyere, and place under the broiler until brown and bubbly. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately.