French Onion Soup
As made for a little dinner party, to boost my post-rachel self-confidence.

French Onion Soup
soup meat
Remember - it's all in the onions.
And the stock.
And some in the red wine.
And maybe a bit in the port and cognac.

Anthony Bourdain uses dark chicken stock, traditionally you would use 50/50 beef and chicken, but most people just use beef, and since I had some awesome beef stock made from the juices of an earlier simple dinner that's what I did.

Serves 4

Slice the onions thinly and evenly. It's easiest to use a mandoline for this. Sprinkle them with a little salt which will help to draw out the moisture and promote caramelisation.
In a large pot, heat the butter over medium heat until it is melted and begins to brown. Add the onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and browned (an hour or so).
Unsurprisingly the onions are critical. Small yellow or Spanish onions are fine, Pink Roscoff apparently the best. Make sure they cook to a nice, dark, even brown colour.
Gradually reduce the heat as they cook down so as not to burn them.
You might get them caramelised in less than an hour, but take as long as you need. Michelin-level chefs spend 5 hours or more. But then they've probably got a monkey to do the stirring for them.
If you want some hints on adding extra sugar, bicarbonate of soda or occasional dashes of water to speed up the onion browning then Serious Eats has already done that homework for you!

Increase the heat to medium high and stir in the cognac and reduce to a thick, sticky bubble, then the port and reduce, then the vinegar and reduce, then the wine and reduce, scraping all that brown goodness from the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Add the stock and the bouquet garni.
I just threw in a handful of thyme leaves and a couple of bay leaves rather than the full bouquet garni.
If you prefer you could save the cognac for adding at the end, just before topping with croutons.
I have tried Bourdain's controversial addition of 2 ounces of ½" cubed bacon - briefly frying some streaky lardons with the caramelised onions to sweat out some of their fat, before continuing with adding the liquids. They were nice enough I suppose, but I think if you're a bit of an onion soup purist (and you should be) you would leave them out.

Reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, skimming any foam off the top with a ladle. Remove the bouquet garni. Season if necessary.
I kept the soup in the fridge for days after this stage with no obvious ill-effects
Reheat it gently though...
Cut 8 thin diagonal slices off the baquette, place them in an oven tray, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven (around Gas 7) until they colour and start to crisp through.
When the soup is finished cooking, ladle it into individual ovenproof crocks. Float two croutons side by side on top of each. I rubbed the croutons with a cut clove of garlic, but I'm not sure it was noticeable. You could try throwing some sliced garlic onto the croutons whilst they're baking instead. Spread a generous, even heaping amount of cheese over the top of the soup. You do want some extra to hang over the edges.
Place each crock under a preheated, rip-roaring broiler (Anthony's words) until the cheese melts, bubbles, browns and even scorches slightly in spots.
Serve immediately (and carefully).
You might want to lay out forks too - it's a bit tricky to eat with just a spoon.

If your broiler is too small or weak to pull this off, yup you can try it in a preheated 425°F/220°C/Gas 7 oven until melted. Once the mound of grated cheese starts to flatten out in the oven, remove each crock and, with a propane torch, blast the cheese until you get the colours you want.

Absolutely fantastic. Everyone seemed to enjoy the rich, deep and complex flavours. The wine really makes a difference too - it adds significant depth, so try not to do without it (though you could consider white wine or cider and calvados instead of the red wine and port). I used a propane torch to scorch the cheese up, since my oven's grill is too weedy to brown toast, and I didn't use one of those titchy crème brûlée torches either.

Make sure you completely fill the serving bowls, it looks better if the melted cheese sits right up to the brim of the bowl.

My friend Alex makes a tasty French Onion soup too described by our mutual Jenny as the best she ever tasted. He uses 20 smallish onions, 15 shallots, 2oz butter, brandy and (questionably) beef stock cubes.
Whilst it's pretty good, I still think the version above has the edge, and Jenny hasn't tasted mine. Alex's soup is not as rich and a little bit too sweet, possibly it's the amount of time invested in the stock?