Normally, French onion soup is a time-consuming process, involving long bouts of caramelization and keeping a close watch on the stove. For this column Nick and I have explored ways of shortening the process to keep it at less than one hour of cooking—doing things like cranking the heat to high while stirring like crazy to prevent burning. But I was intrigued by this recipe from Patricia Wells's well-known volume Bistro Cooking. She calls it an easily "digestible" version from a brasserie in Paris called Pied de Cochon, and rather than having to stand over the stove watching the onions, you toss them into a blazing oven with a bunch of butter and white wine.
The result is not the sweet, shrunken onions of traditional French onion soup; rather the onions are tender and infused with white wine but not deeply caramelized. Beef stock is replaced with lighter chicken stock, which should be of the highest quality, preferably homemade—it's the primary flavor of the soup. With the secondary replacement of red wine with white, this is a different soup altogether from the classic recipe—chickeny and light rather than beefy and deep like red wine. But it's a good recipe in its own right—and even better, it's very undemanding to make.
- 1 pound sweet white or yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cups dry white wine, such as Muscadet
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 4 slices crusty bread or baguette
- 2 cups (5 ounces) freshly grated Gruyere cheese
Preheat the oven to 500°F. Combine the onions, wine, butter, and a large pinch of salt in a baking dish and cook, uncovered, until the wine is absorbed almost completely into the onions, and they are tender and golden, 45 minutes or perhaps a little longer.
In the meantime, bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a large saucepan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
When the onions are finished, divide them among 4 deep broiler-safe bowls. Cover the onions with chicken stock to fill the bowls, and place a slice of bread on each. Distribute the grated cheese over the bread and broil until the cheese is golden and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes.