French Revolutionary Onions À Trois

A mere hour of your time for the most alluring, actually revolutionary, onions in France and most other places on the earth!

Jump to the InstaRecipe if you’re in a rush or don’t want any Dad Advice! 

September 14, 2021.  Dear Kids–  My first experience with what I call “French Onions”, the highly caramelized and highly flavorful onions used in French Onion Soup, was in the 80s while I worked as a busboy at a “Fern” bar/restaurant that was on and then over the edge of being outdated.  The Fern Bar, was a creation of US businessmen to brighten up the bar and restaurant scene in an attempt to attract “all the single ladies”. into its clutches.  So, it was out with the neon signs and dartboards and in with lots of plants and tiffany lamps and down with beer and burgers and up with “new” drinks, like white wine spritzers and pina coladas (“Do you like pina coladas?”) and exotic dishes, borrowed from French bistros, like fondue, quiche (“Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche”) and French onion soup. And there I was trying to attract single ladies with meaningful conversations, a few Single Man Jokes (much funnier, but not better than Dad Jokes) and an awkward smile, when it looks like all I really needed was a fancy drink and overpriced food (This is a Dad Joke- Mom was the only single lady for me- in case you were wondering). In any event, one good thing to come out of that era was my introduction to those luscious onions and their otherworldly pairing with big, cheesy croutons, which has now evolved into the trio of French Onion dishes I have for you today- French Revolutionary Onion Soup with Shattered Croutons, Très French Pizza -French Revolutionary Onion and French Bread Pizza and French Revolutionary Onion Cheese- The Pimento Cheese of Paris!

GET YOUR STUFF OUT

French Revolutionary Onions 

Vegan.  Prep Time- 10 minutes; Cook Time- 60 minutes or more; Yield- 3 cups

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 pounds yellow onions
  • 1/2 cup of dry wine, beer or even water (I know water “ez de enemee of flavour”, but it will evaporate and leave your flavour alone)
  • kosher salt, to taste

I.  French Revolutionary Onion Soup with Shattered Croutons

Vegetarian, Vegan Option. Prep Time- 10 minutes; Cook Time- 20 minutes; Serves- 4

  • 2-3 tablespoons unsalted cow butter or plant butter
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste 
  • 2 cups of French Revolutionary Onions
  • 1/4 cup sherry or dry red wine, optional
  • 6 cups vegetable broth, “Better Than Bouillon” has a very good Sautéed Onion Base to use for this broth
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons balsamic or other vinegar, optional
  • 1/2 baguette
  • oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 4-8 ounces Swiss cheese, like Gruyere, Emmental, Jarlsberg (Click for list of vegetarian/vegan cheeses), shredded on a box grater or pre shredded if you must, keeping in mind that most pre shredded cheese are not Dad worthy
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley, optional 

II.  Très French Pizza -French Revolutionary Onion and French Bread Pizza 

Vegetarian, Vegan Option.  Prep Time- 5 minutes; Cook Time- 10 minutes; Serves- 4-6 as a starter)

  • 1 baguette 
  • 1 large garlic cloves, trimmed and peeled
  • 2 cups of French Revolutionary Onions
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) Swiss cheese, like Gruyere, Emmental, Jarlsberg (Click for list of vegetarian/vegan cheeses), shredded on a box grater
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley, optional

III.  French Revolutionary Onion Cheese- The Pimento Cheese of Paris!

Vegetarian, Vegan Option; Prep Time- 15 minutes; Serves- 8-10 as a starter

  • 1 baguette
  • oil, salt and pepper
  • 5-8 ounces of French Revolutionary Onions
  • 8 ounces
  • Swiss cheese, like Gruyere, Emmental, Jarlsberg (Click for list of vegetarian/vegan cheeses), shredded on box grater
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, vegetarian/vegan, softened
  • 1/4 cup mayo or vegan equivalent  
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 3 scallion tops, trimmed and thinly sliced

COOK AND PLAY

Play I Dreamed a Dream sung by Anne Hathaway and don’t let cutting up all those onions make you miserable, joked the Dad.  Actually, for the amount of time you need to make proper French Revolutionary Onions, why don’t you just queue up the entire soundtrack to Les Miz to keep you company!

French Revolutionary Onions.  

1. Don’t Cry For Me Argenteuil.  Trim both ends of onions, cut in half lengthwise, peel and cut each half lengthwise into 1/4” slices and wipe away the tears.  While there may be no crying in baseball, there is crying in cutting onions.

2. Big Pan and Lid Energy.  Set the widest, high sided sauté or frying pan you over medium heat, add and heat oil and add the onions, with a healthy pinch of salt.  Cover with the pan lid, or a parchment lid you can learn to make in the Lecture, making sure there is a bit of an opening for steam to escape.  Remove the lid for the last 20 minutes or so of cooking.

3. Get A Beer/Soft Drink and Commit.  You will be spending an hour or so getting to know your onions, with the goal of adjusting the heat so the onions form a brown, but not a black crust on the bottom of the pan (known as “fond”) and getting that flavor into the onions by stirring that fond, with a bit of liquid, into the onions with a wooden spoon (known as “deglazing” the pan) until your onions are a very dark brown and hauntingly sweet and delicious. Taste and adjust for salt. See the slideshow below- for pics of raw onions, parchment covered onions, onions at 20 minutes, onions at 40 minutes and onions at 60 minutes.

I.  French Revolutionary Onion Soup with Shattered Croutons

1. A Bit More Flavor To Start.  Set up a middle and upper oven rack and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Set a 2 quart saucepan or small Dutch oven over, medium high heat, add butter and once melted stir in tomato paste and toast for a few minutes.  Add French Revolutionary Onions  and sherry, if using.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes to burn off alcohol and then add broth, simmering while you make the croutons and melt the cheese.  

2. Don’t Burn The Croutons.  While the soup is a simmering, cut baguette into 1/2” slices, place on baking sheet and toss with enough oil to lightly coat and season with salt and pepper.  Bake in oven on middle rack until golden brown, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from oven, set aside, and turn oven to high broil.

3. Shattered Croutons with Cheesy Goodness.  Shatter 4-8 croutons (save extra for something else) with your bare hands and arrange in four piles that resemble circles on baking sheet, being careful not to burn yourself on the baking sheet.  Top evenly with cheese (you’ll use 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cheese per set serving, depending on how cheesy you like it) and if you care to reserve some cheese or add more cheese for a surface layer of cheese on the soup for the shattered cheesy crouton to sit atop, like cheesy king on a throne, by all mean do that.  Place sheet under broiler and watch careful to avoid burning until cheese is melted and starting to brown.

4.  Dress It Up.  Give soup a taste for a final seasoning of salt and pepper, and a bit of vinegar if you think the sweetness of the onions needs some balance.  Once you’re happy with the taste, portion into serving bowls, use a spatula to top with Shattered Cheesy Croutons and, if using, sprinkle with parsley.

II.  Très French Pizza -French Revolutionary Onion and French Bread Pizza 

1. Make Garlic Toast.  Set up middle oven rack and preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut baguette in half lengthwise, place cut side up on baking sheet and season with a light coating of oil and salt and pepper. Bake until golden brown, remove toasted bread from oven and scrape a garlic clove up and down each half- the clove will break down and work into the toast as you rub, giving all its flavor to your toast.

2. Turn That Garlic Toast Into Pizza.  Spread onions evenly over each toasted half of the baguette, spread cheese evenly over onions and return to oven until cheese melts to golden brown.  Remove from oven, top with parsley, if using, and cut into serving slices.

III.  French Revolutionary Onion Cheese- The Pimento Cheese of Paris!

1. Make Toast.  Set up middle oven rack and preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut baguette into 1/4″ slices and place on a baking sheet.  Toss with oil and season with salt and pepper and toss some more. Bake until golden brown.  Don’t be tempted to move on to Step 2 while the croutons are toasting- you will burn your croutons 9 out of 10 times.

2. Sir Mix A Lot.  Get a big bowl, add onions, gruyere cheese, cream cheese, mayo and black pepper and mix it all up, leaving shredded cheese in tact if you can.  Spoon into a serving bowl and top with scallions, with croutons on the side. 

THE LECTURE

Caramelizing Onions Is No Joke. Caramelizing onions is a marathon and not a sprint, so settle in and make yourself comfortable so you can enjoy the experience. I know one of you kids, who I will call “Onion Child”, for now, has the right idea when it comes to this, as explained in a few sentences, and since you have become such an aficionado at caramelizing onions, you can likely skip over this Dad Advice.

As I understand it, Onion Child, your road to caramelization perfection started with the wood fired pizza oven you were fortunate to have in the backyard of your college rental (did we have to pay extra for that BTW?). You and your roommates safely celebrated COVID with epic and safe outdoor pizza parties and it would become your job to prepare the caramelized onions (aka French Revolutionary Onions) for the Topping Bar. I was proud to hear that from the start you took no shortcuts and, actually seem to celebrate the joy that came from the dedication to transform something harsh into something sweet. You put on music, cracked open a beer or two and pulled up a stool to sit caringly, for an hour or more, by your big pan of onions to make sure the fire underneath was neither too hot, nor too cold and stirring, with a dash of your beer, whenever you saw a tasty brown coating at the bottom of the pan. You took pride in your onions and were quick to give stern “feedback” to the unfortunate souls who you felt didn’t take the care caramelized onions deserved. Like the time you came across a plate of splotchy cooked, lunchtime onions one dared to call “caramelized” in your presence. One look at the onions and you knew they were more burned than caramelized and your suspicions were confirmed after you asked how long the onions were cooked- “Only 20 minutes!”, I imagined you bellowed, adding, I also imagine, “You can’t burn onions, stir the burn into the onions and call them caramelized onions!”- or words to that effect. Now, while I can appreciate your passion for food, perhaps next time someone runs a foul of good caramelization techniques, you can invite them for a beer the next time you make caramelized onions and inspire that person to see the light by showing them your dedication to the craft.

So for my other child, who I do not believe has yet to achieve caramelization perfection, I offer you these words.

Keep in mind that there is a lot of moisture in onions that you need to extract to get them properly caramelized.  The 3 lbs of onions I started with in the French Revolutionary Onion recipe yielded about 10 cups of sliced onions and after an hour or so of cooking them down, I ended up with 3 cups of sliced onions that weighed just under 1.5 pounds.

Heat control is key, so make sure you don’t start with too high of a heat so you don’t get black, bitter bits on the bottom of the pan and, if you do start to see black bits, turn down the heat so you don’t corrupt the entire pan of onions.  To help with heat control, use a pan or parchment lid (see below) that allows a little steam to escape- this will keep some moisture in pan to discourage burning, but still allow for browning and also to help cook the onions on top that aren’t in direct contact with the pan.  To get full browning you will eventually need to remove the lid- I do it after about 40 minutes, while Onion Child does it after 20.

Another key to success, is scraping up the brown goodness on the bottom of the pan (“fond”- I’m very fond of the fond, joked the Dad)- with good heat control, you should build up fond after every 10 minutes or so (if you’re not confident in your heat control or smell burning, check more often), that you should scrap into the onions with a bit of liquid (“deglazing”)- if you let it build up too much, it’s more likely to burn to bitter (ruining all your effort and time investment).  

So what would you do if one of your friends tells you to use sugar or baking soda or some other gimmick to make 20 minute French onions?  First, I fully doubt you have any friends that make French onions, but for purposes of this learning point, let’s assume you do. I give you the same advice that I gave you when you invoked your friend’s knowledge and experience over mine when you were kids (although, it’s much more likely your friends are smarter than me now, but that’s not the point)- “If your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you?”; which is something your grandparents would ask me when under similar circumstances. As for you kids, you would eventually say “No”, I think more from the fact that we lived nowhere near Brooklyn rather than because of the danger of such a jump, which I’m sure appealed to you based on the cliff jump Onion Child posted on Facebook that one time she told me she was at a friend’s watching the Women’s World Cup.  Now back to those gimmicks- they’re just gimmicks and no substitute for the hard work and dedication for successful French Revolutionary Onions (or life), but you can try them if you want because you’re adults and free of my jurisdiction.

In conclusion, I realize an hour of your life is a lot to commit to making onions, but it’s worth it and, if you do what I often do when I make French Revolutionary Onions, and have several pans of onions going at the same time, you get a load of delicious onions that freeze so well you can easily spoon 1-2 cup portions into freezer bags, pressing out all the air, and have them in a flash the next time you need them.

The Parchment Lid. I saw this technique in one of acclaimed Chef, Thomas Keller’s, cookbooks and every time I use it, I feel like I’m performing a magic trick- starting with a square piece of parchment and, with a few mystical folds and cuts, turning it into an elegant and perfectly pleated circle of paper.  I apologize if the photos below aren’t as helpful as they could be (I should probably figure out how to get some videos embedded into these pages), but here’s the Play By Play for the folding, which I hope makes it all clearer. Start by tearing off a square portion of parchment paper.  Fold the upper right corner of the square down to the lower left corner of the square, making a triangle.  Take the upper left side of the triangle, and fold it down to the lower right corner of the triangle, making a smaller triangle.  Fold the lower right corner of the triangle to the lower left corner of the triangle- yep, you guessed it, to make and even smaller triangle.  One last fold- fold the right side of the triangle to the left side of the triangle.  Cut a small bit of the tip off the triangle (for steam to escape) then place the point of the triangle in the middle of the pan and cut across the wider end of the triangle that is over the edge of the pan to get the proper size lid for the pan. If all this makes no sense to you, it’s probably time to bring in the big guns, so check out this Martha Stewart video.

Swiss Cheese. Swiss cheese, with lots of holes, is the ultimate cartoon cheese, sure to be in Jerry’s arms as Tom chases him all over the house, but there’s a lot more to Swiss Cheese than that. Swiss cheese, if you can believe Wikipedia, – is made in over 475 varieties, and US supermarket “Swiss” cheese, which is milder in flavor- with a bit of a rubbery texture, is not one of them. The vast majority (99%) is made with cow’s milk and very few have the cartoonish holes- Emmental a notable and popular exception. Many US supermarkets offer American-“Swiss”, Emmental, Jarlsberg and Gruyere, the traditional cheese of choice for French Onion Soup. Use the best cheese your budget allows, grate it yourself and, if you need to save a little money, consider a homemade blend of a less expensive cheese with a more expensive one. Side note- less expensive cheese isn’t aged to concentrate the flavors and has more water, which as I hope you know by now “ez de enemee of flavour!”.

As for the amount of cheese needed when it comes to French Onion Soup, I’ve seen restaurant cooks pile mile high mounds of cheese (OK perhaps not miles, but at least 5 inches or so) atop crocks of French Onion Soup on it’s way under the salamander (a fancy broiler), but the recipe calls for a reasonable range of cheese per bowl- but let your like or love of cheese be your guide- as for me, I like a few ounces of cheese for my bowl.

Did I Just Invent Shattered Croutons? Panera’s Lawyers Say No!  I’m not saying I invented shattered croutons, although I may have come up with this catchy name, but Panera has the right idea of topping French Onion Soup with what most people would call salad-sized croutons because it just too hard to break up the typical, large, onion soup crouton without spilling your soup all over your nice pants and possibly inflicting 3rd degree burns on your thighs.  BTW Panera- you forgot an entire meal in my pick up order a year and a half ago and when I called you about it, you told me I could drive all the way back to pick it up, with no discount or bonus food for my trouble- a policy I think you should reconsider since I haven’t been back ever since this happen (Oh yeah, I, like most Dads, can hold a grudge- kids be better than that!). 

Is My Bowl Broiler Safe? Probably Not. Many recipes and the snobby French (not that all French are snobby- go to France and decide for yourself) call for broiler safe bowls or crocks as the vessel of choice for French Onion Soup, but that’s not likely something you’ll find in the Young Adult Kitchen. So, with this in mind, the recipe for French Revolutionary Onion Soup with Shattered Croutons has you broiling your soup topping on a baking sheet, which allows you to use whatever broiler unsafe bowls you have.

French Revolutionary Onion Mac and Cheese Bonus. I had the fine company of one of my nieces while I was developing these recipe and who, after a bit of complaining about me not giving her a 1st Edition, Dad’s Dinner Diary tee, went wild for the idea of using French Revolutionary Cheese to make a quick and fancy version of Mac and Cheese. So, if my niece or anyone else cares to make this, just cook your favorite pasta shape and stir in about 3 ounce of French Revolutionary Onion Cheese for every 3 ounces of dried pasta by weight that you cook. If you like a little crunch on your mac and cheese, try topping it with French’s or Durkee’s crispy, fried onions too.

PS- I seriously doubt that anyone gets to the end of one of my posts, especially the particularly long ones- like this one. If, however, you do and have- thank you and I know realize that this particular long post would have probably been better and less confusing if it was organized into several posts. Sorry- I’m not a professional, I’m just a Dad, so please forgive me. Nothing but love!

© 2021 All rights reserved.  Dad’s Dinner Diary

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