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When it comes to making good, hearty French onion soup, most cooks would consider it heresy to use chicken broth. Thirty years ago, when Americans started making French food (thanks to Julia Child), beef broth was the only way to go.
But the best French onion soup I’ve ever had is made with chicken broth. We had a French restaurant back in Ohio that made it this way, and over the years, I’ve been able to recreate it as close to the original as possible. The soup is made with sliced onions, slow-roasted in butter and white wine and ladled into chubby crocks with steaming chicken broth.
The onions slices are braised in the oven, with no stirring or fussing. The onions absorb wine and butter as they bake, making the onions sweet and silky.
Chicken broth is heated separately from the onions. When ready to serve, the onion mixture is spooned into crocks and the broth ladled on top. Each portion is topped with a thick slice of toasted French bread (baguette) and a mound of shredded Gruyere cheese (a nutty-tasting Swiss) and broiled until the cheese melts. If you can’t find Gruyere, Jarlsberg or baby Swiss are good substitutes.
My Creamy Potato Leek Soup is made with chicken broth, and the Burgundy Mushroom Soup and Herb Cheese Soup with Meatballs, Potatoes and Peas are made with beef broth. All are relatively easy to make and are ready to serve in less than an hour.
The mellow flavor of these soups will convince you that there’s more than one answer to the question, “Beef broth or chicken broth?”
When you are preparing soup, you should always heat the broth or stock in advance. Put it on just as soon as you start your cooking preparations, and it will be hot when you need it.
French Onion Soup
1 lb. white onions, sliced thin
2 cups dry, white wine
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 cups (1-48 oz. can) chicken broth
6 slices (1/2-inch thick) crusty baguette, toasted
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine onions, wine and butter in a 9 x 12-inch baking pan. Bake until onions are soft and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes.
Note: You can also just saute the sliced onions in a large pot, just adding a little olive oil and butter. Once they are cooked down a bit, add the white wine and simmer until the liquid is almost absorbed.
Bring broth to a simmer. Divide the warm onions among six soup bowls or crocks. Ladle broth over onions. Top each bowl with a toasty baguette. Top with cheese. Broil until the cheese melts, about two to three minutes. Makes six servings.
Creamy Potato Leek Soup
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 large or 3 medium leeks
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter
1 cup flour
4 cups hot chicken broth
4 cups milk
2 cups Half and Half
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Place potatoes in a pan and cover with water. Simmer until tender, about 10 minutes; drain, reserving about one cup of the potato water. Set aside.
Cut the white portion and about one-inch of the light-green portion of the leeks from the dark-green tops. Discard the tops. Cut off the root and discard. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Cut leek halves into thin, horizontal slices. Place sliced leeks in a strainer and wash under cold, running water.
Place cut leeks, onion, garlic and butter in a soup pot. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender. Add flour and stir with a whisk until lightly browned.
Whisk in hot chicken broth. Whisk in milk and cream. Add the potatoes and enough of the potato water to produce a smooth, creamy consistency. Simmer for several minutes to heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 8-10 servings.
Burgundy Mushroom Soup
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2-1/2 cups finely chopped shitake mushrooms
1 cup chopped red onion
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup dry, red wine
1/2 Tbsp. sweet paprika
1/2 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1/4 lb. (1 stick) butter
1 cup flour
8 cups (or more) hot beef broth
Heat oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add mushrooms, onions and garlic; sauté until onions are translucent. Add butter to the pan. When melted, stir in flour. Cook and stir until butter is browned. Slowly whisk in hot beef broth. Stir in wine, paprika and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until thick and smooth. Makes about 12 servings.
Herb Cheese Soup with Meatballs, Potatoes and Peas
1 medium onion
10 ounces chopped lean beef sirloin
1 medium egg
Salt and seasoned pepper
Peel and chop onion. In a bowl, combine onion with beef, egg and seasonings to form a smooth-textured mixture. Season to taste and shape into small balls. Note: If you prefer, you can use sausage, prepared as above, or small, prepared frozen meatballs.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
8 cups hot beef broth
1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen peas
1 can (14.5 oz.) sliced, white potatoes
4 oz. processed herb-flavored cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
Melt butter in a soup pot. Stir in flour and cook over low heat to make a roux. Stir in hot beef broth and bring to a boil. Add peas; simmer for five minutes. Slice or break-up herb cheese into soup in small bits and stir until melted. Add potatoes and meatballs to the soup; cook for five minutes at a bare simmer. Stir in chives. Makes about 10-12 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at email@example.com.