Swiss Onion Soup Recipe

Chow on 10.13.09
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My husband, Scott, is a big French onion soup fan, ordering it whenever possible when we're eating out. For me, though, the traditional French version is just a little too rich, too heavy for my tastes. All this time, I thought what Scott liked about the soup was its full-bodied, sweet beefy stock and the heady cognac. Because, that's a foodie or a chef would say. 

But, nope. I should have known better. "It's all about the cheese, baby," he revealed. That's exactly why I love him. Scott's a simple guy with simple tastes (man eat meat. grunt.) and always brings me back down from gourmet la-la land.

We set out to find an onion soup that we would both enjoy and finally found it at Mangrove Grill in Palmetto, Florida. It's lighter-bodied with just a touch of creaminess and uses chicken stock instead of beef and a pale ale instead of cognac. Chef Clay provided me with their restaurant kitchen recipe (i.e. start with 10 gallons of stock!) and I've adapted it for us to cook at home and lightened up the recipe even more.

But it still has the cheese. Lots of cheese.

How to make Swiss Onion Soup

 1. The most important element of this soup is to brown the onions, not burn them. Use a heavy-bottomed pot, a good quality one (not the flimsy, dented pot that you still have from college days).

2. After a couple of minutes, the onions should start browning. Make sure you keep your heat high enough to brown, but low enough so that they don't burn.

3. If you scootch the onions over, you'll see some browning in the pan, which is perfect. Those brown bits = flavor. We'll be scraping up those brown bits a little later.

4. After 7-10 minutes, you're onions should be softened, sweet and a nice golden color. This is exactly where I like my onions - they are soft, but still have some body to them. If you like your onions sweeter, let it brown for another 5 minutes. Remember, the longer you cook the onions, the sweeter and richer the soup will be (and it's hard to balance out a too-sweet soup)

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Now it's time for the beer! Pour in the beer! I use a pale ale. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up those tasty browned bits. We'll cook this down a little longer, until the beer has reduced in half.

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Then goes in the chicken stock, herbs (bay leaf, thyme sprigs) and spices (paprika, celery seeds). After simmering for 15 minutes, it's almost done! Just a touch of cream is swirled in at the end.

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But wait! It's not done until the fat crouton sings! (and the cheese too!) Shredded gruyere/swiss cheese and day-old bread.

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The bread is toasted slightly.

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And then the cheese

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Pop that in the broiler until the cheese is nice and bubbly.

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Sprinkle with a touch of freshly minced parsley....and serve while hot.

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Here's a peek at the sauteed onions!

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Swiss Onion Soup Recipe

Adapted from Mangrove Grill Restaurant

serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions, sliced
12 ounces pale ale beer
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon table salt)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4-6 pieces day old bread, toasted
1 1/2 cups grated gruyere swiss cheese, or other cheese (or 4-6 slices)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1. Heat a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the onions. Cook the onions 7-10 minutes, until golden brown. Check the onions often to make sure they do not burn. Pour in the pale ale, use a wooden spoon to scrape up the delicious brown bits at the bottom of the pan and let simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, paprika, celery seeds and salt. Bring the soup to a boil and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt if needed. Turn off the heat and swirl in the cream. Ladle the soup into 4-6 individual soup bowls.

3. Turn the broiler to high and with the rack 8-inches below the heating element, toast the bread slices.

4. Place a piece of toasted bread in each soup bowl and then top with some of the grated cheese. Place all of the bowls on a baking sheet and carefully transfer it to the broiler. Watch the soup carefully! It should only take about 3 minutes for the cheese to melt and bubble. Serve with a sprinkling of parsley.