beer and onion soup

I don’t know if this is an authentic French onion soup recipe, so I won’t call it one. Others I’ve seen have used cognac, some have used chicken stock and some white wine. This one is darkly beery and beefy and a lot richer than you might think. A meal in a bowl.

But, if you are beefily challenged, ie vegetarian, you can get away with using a vegetable stock or even water- just make sure that the beer you are using is pleasantly dark, and use a little more than the recipe calls for.

Speaking of beer, I used a Monteiths Black Beer. Brewed on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, it has a dark, almost chocolatey, maltiness to it, but without any of the bitterness that you get in a stout (and I have absolutely nothing against stout- and am partial to a pint, or three, of Guinness).

The other thing to note about this soup is that it isn’t a chop and forget. To get the colour and sweetness that you need from the onions be prepared to jolly them along for 30 minutes or so. I grabbed another of the beers (just so I could be sure about the taste) and a cookbook to browse through while they were doing their thing.

There is, however, something infinitely satisfying about long, slow cooking on a long, slow weekend- and the result is always a much deeper level of flavours than if ingredients had just been bunged in and left.

This recipe comes from Matthew Evans wonderful Winter on the Farm. He calls it “Beer, Cheese and Onion Soup”, which is to me descriptive of what it is. I love this book- I also cooked a duck ragu from this the other night (with the so fresh whole duck we bought at the food markets) and will be doing the apple and sour cream slice again later in the week. (If you are interested, I posted the recipe for the apple and sour cream slice over on the Astro pages last year. Here is the link).

I go a little lighter on the amount of onions that he does, and do a half/half mix with the stock/water to lighten it up a touch- but that’s just me. I also use whatever herbs I have hanging around, but that’s me as well.

Oh, and I didn’t take a photo of the finished soup because seriously, it smells and tastes amazing, but is pretty flipping brown and ugly to look at!

What You Need

60g butter or lard, or 3 tablespoons oil, or a mix of both.

  • 8 large onions, very thinly sliced. This works out to be over 1kg- or thereabouts.
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 100ml dark beer
  • 875ml beef stock, water, or both
  • 1 cup chopped continental parsley
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small baguette cut on an angle into thick slices
  • 200g grated gruyere (or other good melting) cheese

What you do with it

  • Heat the butter in a large saucepan over low heat and get to know your onions a little better. They will need stirring often- until they are soft, sweet and golden brown. You don’t want them to catch or burn. Add some salt and the herbs as they cook. The salt will help draw out the moisture and the herbs will add another dimension of flavour.
  • Pour in the stock/water and beer, parsley, pepper and simmer for an hour on low heat. That’s it!
  • Pop the cheese on top of the bread slices and grill until golden and bubbly. Serve these either on the side of floating on top.