I would expect nothing less than perfection from the San Francisco bakery, Tartine, where the masters of everything bread and pastry-related come together to try to restore the good name of carbs. Apparently the Tartine magic extends to the savoury realm as well, as this is the second “go-to” savoury recipe of mine that comes from the Tartine arsenal (the other being this meatball sandwich of my dreams). This soup comes out all sweet and light in a way that you don’t expect from a dish as typically heavy as French onion soup. The stock is like a buttery roast chicken in liquid gold form and the onions are slicked in just a kiss of duck fat. It’s truly marvelous.
A lengthy sidebar: aside from the amazeballs soup you get, this recipe also lets you make chicken salad with the leftover meat from the stock, so really this is two excellent meals in one. Also, for the record, I make the best chicken salad of anyone I know. Think curry powder, toasted almonds, scallions, mayo, lemon juice, and Dijon. Consider that a bonus recipe because I love y’all that much. Also somehow I can still justify eating a sandwich alongside a soup that is essentially just a fluid vessel for cheese toast. It’s a talent.
Tartine French Onion Soup w/ Chicken Stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 whole chicken, rinsed in and out
4 chicken legs, rinsed
6 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
Soup + Assembly:
6 large yellow onions, halved and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp duck fat (a lot of butcher shops sell frozen fat, but you can also just use more butter)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cups white wine (preferably something on the drier side), divided
6-8 slices rustic country bread, cut into ~1-inch-thick slices (preferably day-old)
2 heaping cups grated gruyere cheese
Start by making the stock. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pot over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally until nicely golden along the edges, ~10-15 minutes. Stir in the celery and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the whole chicken, chicken legs, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and roughly 3-4 litres of water. Bring to a boil then lower to a gentle simmer, skimming off any scum or foamy bits that rise to the top. Continue simmering, uncovered and periodically skimming as needed for ~1 ½ hours. Remove all the chicken from the stock, then let cool until able to handle and shred for chicken salad purposes. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a deep metal bowl. Place the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice water and stir to start cooling the stock down. Skim off as much fat as possible (it will start to rise to the top and congeal slightly). Once cool enough, refrigerate the stock if not using immediately.
To make the French onion soup, combine the sliced onions, cream, butter, duck fat (if using), and salt in a large, deep sauté pan or pot/Dutch oven set over medium heat. Start stirring when you hear the fats sizzling. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, ~10-15 minutes. Keeping the cream at a low boil, spread the onions evenly over the bottom of the pot, then raise the heat slightly, cooking the onions and occasionally stirring until the bottom of the pot begins to turn brown – this could be a really variable amount of time depending on your heat and pot depth situation, so just cook until this happens. Tartine claims it happens in 6 minutes, but it always takes me well over 20 (and like, it would be totally reasonable for it to take you almost 30 minutes). Stir the onions to scrape up any residue, then pour in ½ cup wine and deglaze the pot. Stir up the brown bits as best you can, then keep cooking and stirring until a brown residue starts to build up again and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Deglaze the pot with another ½ cup wine and repeat the process of cooking, stirring, and deglazing until you have used all the wine up and the onions have taken on a deep caramel colour.
Pour in your homemade chicken stock, bring the soup to a simmer, and cook until the liquid and onions have melded together deliciously, ~15-20 minutes. While the soup simmers, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. When the soup is done simmering, taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Let the soup sit over very low heat while you toast the bread. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until dry, brittle, and generally unappealing, ~10 minutes. Ladle the soup into ovenproof bowls, filling nearly to the rims. Float the toast slices (cutting if needed to fit the bowl) on top of each serving and sprinkle generously with gruyere. Transfer the bowls to a rimmed baking sheet (not an option – you must do this to avoid a hideously smoky oven) and carefully place in the oven. Bake until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and browned, ~20-30 minutes. Serve immediately with a big shit-eating grin on your face.