Saturday, March 24, 2012

French Onion Soup

I was driving home from work the other day and trying to figure out what I'd make for dinner. The pantry was pretty bare, but there was a bag of onions that needed to be used up, and several containers of homemade stock in the freezer downstairs.  Those two ingredients made me think of soup.  More specifically, Famous-Barr French Onion Soup.

Famous-Barr was a chain of department stores in St Louis (which, sadly, were all converted to Macy's in 2006).  The stores had cafeterias with a wide-ranging menu, but French Onion soup was the only thing I ever ordered; thick and rich, it was covered with a layer of melted cheese atop slices of French baguette and served in a brown pottery soup bowl with a handle.  Another slice of baguette came on the side, along with packets of real butter.

I hadn't had it for years, but decided that French Onion soup would be great for dinner. When I got home I Googled the recipe.  As I read through it, though, I realized I had a problem...the recipe called for 3 1/2 hours of cooking time, and overnight refrigeration to meld the flavors together.  I wanted to eat it in 90 minutes.  However, with some creative thinking I was able to put dinner on the table right on time.  If the soup suffered for it, I didn't notice.

The original recipe (which I halved):
Famous-Barr's French Onion Soup
Yield: About 4 quarts
5 pounds unpeeled onions
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
3 quarts beef broth (regular or low-sodium)
1 cup white wine, optional
Caramel coloring or Kitchen Bouquet, optional
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
Sourdough or French baguettes, thinly sliced, optional
Swiss or Gruyere cheese, optional
    Peel onions and slice 1/8 inch thick. Melt butter in a 6-quart (or larger) stockpot. Add onions; cook, uncovered, over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
    Sprinkle with pepper, paprika and flour and add bay leaf; sauté over low heat 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
    Slowly pour in broth and wine, stirring constantly. Increase heat and bring to a boil.
    As soon as the soup boils, reduce heat to low and simmer very slowly for 2 hours.
    If desired, adjust color to a rich brown with caramel coloring. Season with salt. Refrigerate overnight so flavors can blend.
    To serve, reheat soup. If desired, pour into ovenproof crocks or bowls. Top with a slice of bread and a sprinkling of grated cheese. Heat under the broiler until cheese melts and bubbles, about 5 minutes.
To save time, I prepared the onions partway in the microwave.  I put the raw onions in a Pyrex bowl and covered it with a plate. I cooked the onions for eight minutes, stirred them, then repeated the process. The onions came out perfectly soft and translucent. I melted the butter in the pan, then dumped the sweated onions in and cooked them until they caramelized, about 20 minutes. No need for artificial coloring!  While the onions were on the stove, I thawed the broth in the microwave, then added it and the other ingredients to the pot.  I didn't have crusty baguette bread in the house, but there was some homemade "snake" bread from our St. Patrick's feast which I put in a low oven to toast while the soup simmered (for about 45 minutes).

To serve, I put the bread in two bowls, poured hot soup on top, then added a slice of Swiss to each.  It was really good!


  1. LOL That is the recipe we use too. It's the best!

  2. Yum. The Mister especially loves this soup! How perfect to use up things in an empty pantry!

  3. yum! I remember Famous-Barr--especially the one over in St. Ann. I didn't realize that they became a Macy's affiliate. Recipe sounds good though--I do like French Onion Soup!

  4. Sounds delicious, this is something I also haven't made in years... great idea, thanks.

  5. sounds delicious, I'm all for saving time too, very creative!

  6. Sounds really good, but the key ingredient is the broth, and having homemade beef broth made all the difference. I always use the store bought stuff and it's never all that good.

  7. Wow, well done. My attempts to cheat prep time on recipies, well, the food definitely suffered for it. As did anybody attempting to eat it.

    And I'm very flattered and thank you for asking and yes of course, share away!

  8. I do love French Onion Soup and this sounds really wonderful!