There are few perceivable pillars of French cooking that are as widely and voraciously loved as scalding-hot onion soup cloaked in a blistering layer of melted Gruyère. Like many of the epic French dishes that canonize the cuisine of rural folk, vegetarians usually remain wholly uninvited. How does one mitigate that beef stock in every single recipe of the gooiest of soups, French onion?
After trying small batches of all three colors of the French tricolore, we settled on Chimay Blue, a Dubbel-style beer that's a household name for boozers. But any other basic Dubbel can become a super substitute for reduced animal gore. The malts and sugars eek out a strikingly similar flavor when combined with all the wonderful juices of way too many onions.
2 cups Chimay Blue (Grande Réserve), or another Dubbel-style beer
4 cups vegetable stock
4 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
Kosher salt to taste
4-6 slices crusty French bread
2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese
1) Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the butter and let it blister.2) Add the sliced onions and cook uncovered. Let them sit for about 4 minutes, then stir. Repeat until all the onions begin to brown.3) Add the olive oil, garlic and shallots. Stir once every 5 minutes, until the garlic and shallots have caramelized.4) Add the beer and crank the heat to just shy of high. Let the beer boil off until there is half as much beer volume as onion volume.5) Add the stock, bay leaves, thyme and white pepper. Cook until the liquid has reduced by about 2 finger-widths. Taste the soup and adjust with salt. Cook for 20 more minutes. In an ideal world, you should let the soup sit for a day in your fridge before serving.6) To serve, ladle your soup into oven-safe receptacles, being mindful to leave 1 finger-width for your cheesy toasts.7) Float the bread in the center of each bowl (if needed, trim the bread slices to fit) and cover evenly with cheese. If you wanna do it vegan, douse toast with olive oil instead of cheese.8) Pop the bowls under the broiler either in your oven or your toaster oven, and broil until the cheese is bubbly and brown (or the olive oil-slicked bread turns golden). Season with salt to taste. Vegans, sprinkle your cheese-less toasts with brewer's yeast.9) Don’t burn your tongue.
Soundtrack: Metal Urbain’s "Hystérie Connective" (off Anarchy In Paris)