Mmm . . . what could be more comforting on a dreary winter evening than a bowl of cheese-encrusted French Onion Soup? Made with a base of homemade Beef Bone Broth, it’s also a immune boosting, gut healing, blood and bone building elixir. The addition of steak is optional: I landed on it as a great way to use day-old steak, and my husband loves finding hearty meat in his soup!
4-5 yellow onions, sliced
3-4 shallots, sliced (if unavailable, use an additional onion)
5 T. butter
1 quart strong beef bone broth, tallow removed
2-4 cups water
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 bay leaves
day-old steak, sliced thinly against grain, or shredded roast (optional)
1-4 tsp. unrefined sea salt (see note)
crusty bread for topping, artisan soudough or french bread is good
sliced cheese for melting, such as Havarti, Jack, or Gouda
Melt butter in a large heavy enameled dutch oven. Add sliced onions and shallots, stirring to coat with the butter. Cook uncovered over Medium-High heat for 15 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes with a wooden spoon, or until onions have turned a dark brown as they caramelize. Cover and cook another 25 minutes on Medium-Low, stirring occasionally. Onions will shrink during cooking.
Add broth, water, thyme, bay leaves, pepper, meat if desired, and half of salt. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves, and add salt to taste (see note). This soup has a lot of sweetness from the carmelized onions, so I like it best when I’ve salted just enough for my tongue to tell me “savory” rather than “sweet/bland”. (Since the homemade broth isn’t pre-salted, you may be surprised by the amount of salt it will need.) I can not overemphasize salting correctly, as this brings out the delicate onion/shallot flavor, bringing it from frumpy to fabulous.
Set oven to Broil. Toast bread, unless it is the ends, then slice into 1 inch strips. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls, and top with toast slices, then top with sliced cheese. Place bowls on top rack of oven and leave door open slightly so you can watch them; they are ready when cheese melts and bubbles, with light brown edges.
Serve straight from the oven to the table; warn your family of the hot bows and set potholders at each spot to protect your table top.
Note: different salts have differing amounts of saltiness. Unrefined salt (usually grey, red, or another color because of the minerals still in it) is less salty than refined salt, which has additives (including aluminum -yuck!) for dryness and easy pouring which give it a harsh or bitter flavor and dextrose sugar to cover this flavor. Unrefined salt is the better choice, but you will need to adjust the amount you add according to taste. If the salt you use is the moist coarse kind (such as the wonderful Course Sea Salt from Trader Joes), wait a few minutes after adding salt to the soup pot before tasting. Since it has large salt crystals, it takes a little longer for it to dissolve; it would be easy to oversalt it in haste.