Give It Thyme

If I was meant to have patience I would’ve been a doctor.

Thank you. I’ll be here all night. Tip your server.

Seriously, though. That hokey statement… one my dad uses.. holds true for me. I like things done yesterday. And yet, I cook. And love it.

Unless your recipe relies on a microwave, instant gratification isn’t something you get in the kitchen.

Cupcakes take time to rise. Meat usually benefits from an hours-long bath in a savory swimming pool. Water needs many minutes to boil, despite the fact that Kenmore tells you have a turbo boil burner. Gimmick much? But I digress.

This week I learned that patience pays off.

If you’ve ever had good French Onion soup you know that there are layers upon layers of fantastic flavor.

Sure, you can crack open a can, dump the coagulated contents in a dish and nuke it all for two minutes. But you’d be missing out in the richness that can only come from a pot that’s spent more time on the back burner than my weight-loss plans.

French onion soup got its start from poverty. Onions were easy to grow, and bread was too good to waste, even if you could play hockey with it.

Like Cher, it’s gone through many a metamorphosis.

I’ve heard arguments from purists who think true French onion soup is made with water, and that you should avoid broth because it imparts a different flavor (beef-onion soup?), and because it doesn’t stay true to the simplicity and frugality of the original version. The opposition says the broth is worth it, and points out that its hypocritical to not use broth, but then cloak the crock in a $14 block of Gruyere (sweeter/nuttier than Swiss) cheese. I agree.

Onions may still be cheap and plentiful. Time is not, and doing this right takes a lot of it.

Caramelized onions give this soup it’s flavor and richness.

Getting an onion to release its sugars isn’t easy.

You’ve got to let them cook, and cook, and cook some more.

Start by getting big onions. I used 3 of the sweet variety.

Slice ’em thin.

Ten toss ’em in a pot with butter. A lot of recipes call for a whole stick. I used 3 tablespoons. I’m trying to bring those weight-loss plans to the front burner!

Sprinkle in some salt and let ’em go on medium low. Mine cooked for an hour and 15 minutes.

Can you imagine? One hour and 15 minutes of smelling onions and butter in a delectable dance. It’s like cruel and unusual punishment. But I took it like a man, and boy, was it worth it.

They were gooey and sweet like silky caramel.

The brown bits basking beneath the sweet slices are just important to the soup as the onions themselves.

To get them to rise to a heavenly aromatic state, I used sherry vinegar. It’s $10 bucks a bottle, and no, it’s nothing something Maurice would’ve had in a Parisian village, but the Fresh Market had it, so I bought it.

The sherry imparts another level of sweetness.

To this, I added beef broth, grated garlic, bay leaves, and fresh thyme.

While the ingredients got a little too friendly, I roasted some pearl onions.

It’s not traditional, but you know me. I like to be different.

The pearl onions add another level of texture. I roasted them with sherry vinegar and olive oil. They got a little bit of caramelization on them. In the soup, they pop with every bite.

Then I dumped everything in the slow cooker. I took out the thyme, because fresh herbs just don’t mesh well with hours of cooking. I added brown sugar to boost the richness.

In my mind, I saw a little nook in the corner of Maurice’s cottage where a cauldron of soup stewed over flaming logs for hours.

Once again, I had to wait. I didn’t taste test. I let it go.

In the morning, 7 and a half hours later, I dove in.

The color was deep, and so was the flavor.

Into the fridge it went. More waiting.

That night, we heated it up, then topped it with freshly-made croutons, and Swiss cheese (Gruyere’s step-sister).

The soup was thick, with a depth of flavor that only patience could provide.

This meal took a lot of time, but it definitely brought me back in it.

I can remember my mom raving about French onion soup when I was little. She’d get it at a restaurant called The Olde World Cheese Shop.

This bowl of beauty brings me to a time of simplicity and warmth, a period when an onion and broth meant a full belly.

Its worth your time. I promise.

3 large sweet onions, sliced thin
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
64 oz. unsalted beef broth
1/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
2 cloves of garlic
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup of thawed, peeled pearl onions
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 brown sugar
Salt and pepper
Swiss cheese

In a large pot, add onions, butter, and big pinches of salt/pepper. Stir until butter melts. Cook on medium-low for an hour and 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

When onions are caramelized, raise heat to medium-high, and deglaze the pot with vinegar. Stir and cook for 5 minutes to cook off the bite of thine vinegar.

Preheat your oven to 400.

Add broth, then grate the garlic into the pot. Add bay leaves, thyme, and a few good pinches of salt. Boil for 5 minutes, then simmer for 30 minutes.

In a small dish, combine pearl onions, 1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes.

Remove thyme from pot of soap, then pour contents into a slow cooker. Add brown sugar, a few pinches of salt, and the pearl onions. Cook on low for 7-8 hours.

Serve soup in deep bowls. Top them with croutons (I roasted cubed baguette coated in olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder at 450 for 5 minutes), and 2 slices of Swiss cheese. Pop the bowls in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of a baked potato from Wendy’s. They’re cheap, and ready to eat. I melted butter with a good pinch of Herbes de Provence (fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender), then poured it over the potatoes. Perfect side dish for our French onion soup!


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