As anyone who has seen Shrek likely recalls, ogres are like onions. Not because they stink or make you cry, but because they have layers.
But, unlike the ogre at the center of that 2001 film, onions are rarely the stars, nearly always relegated to bit parts or supporting roles in favor of meat or another vegetable assuming the spotlight. That’s not the case with gratinée des halles, or French onion soup, a decadent dish that’s fit for (and was possibly created by) royalty, but is equally well-suited for peasants thanks to its main ingredient being widely available and incredibly cheap.
And thanks to its propensity to warm, if not the heart, at least the bones of even the most Francophobic individual, French onion soup is as ideal of a winter companion as cozy gloves or a snug beanie.
“I want to have it when it’s cold out and bitter. French onion soup is the perfect food in that scenario,” John DeLucie, a chef who has spent decades in the New York City restaurant scene, tells InsideHook. “It’s just so comforting. It’s salty and it’s sweet and it’s a lot of calories, man. When I go skiing, I want to have it. One bowl and you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m good. I can ski for another four hours.’”
Delucie, who serves his take on French onion soup at the recently opened Court Street Tavern in Brooklyn, says he ate a lot of minestrone and chicken soup growing up, and didn’t try the dish until college, let alone work with it as a professional chef.
“College is where a lot of people start to experiment and have the freedom to eat whatever the hell they want,” he says. “I discovered French onion soup then and really enjoyed it. I never really worked with it professionally until now. It’s a pretty nostalgic dish to me. People enjoy nostalgic foods, especially in the climate we’re in now. It makes them feel young.”
For his take on the winter warmer, Delucie used two different kinds of stock, and threw in some booze for good measure.
“It’s a mixture of beef stock and chicken stock. It was a matter of finding the balance,” he says. “Too much beef and it’s a little heavy, but too much chicken and it’s a little too light. I think the addition of sherry marries the saltiness of the Gruyère and the sweetness of the onion. The sherry gets really nice and sweet. I think it’s really what makes it so complete. It’s just got a complex flavor profile which is just really nice.”
And that flavor profile goes back to making sure the star of the show, the onion, is performing at its full potential.
“You could easily not go long enough with the onions. That’s a mistake I think probably a lot of people make,” Delucie cautions. “You’ve got to go a really long time and make sure the onions are super caramelized and very dark brown. The rest is kind of easy. The thing is, the broths you can buy, but the onions you’ve just got to make. Truth be known, the trick is cooking them long and slow and not rushing it. It takes a long time to cook the soup, so you should probably just plan out a nice afternoon.”
Also, pro tip: When serving, make sure the cheese is melted all the way over the top of the soup and onto the side of the bowl.
“The guests love it. The dishwashers hate it,” Delucie says.
To see if you’re in the former camp (before falling into the latter), Delucie’s recipe is below.
John DeLucie’s French Onion Soup
- 3 tbsp butter
- 6 large onions diced
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cups dry sherry
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups beef broth
- 6 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- Ground black pepper
- 2 slices Gruyère cheese
- To make your own croutons, cut bread to 1/4” dice and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees until golden brown.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan.
- Add onions, bay leaf and thyme and cook slowly until the onions become caramelized and deep brown, stirring /scraping constantly (1.5 -2 hours).
- Add sherry and scrape all the bits from the pan.
- Once sherry is reduced add beef and chicken broth simmer for 1.5 hours.
- Ladle into soup cups.
- Add croutons, cover with Gruyère, melt under broiler.
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