(Joan's version of recipe from the Oregonian November 6, 2007)
The heart of onion soup, is the onions:
If you just simmered sliced onions in beef broth you'd get oniony broth.
But caramelizing the onions first is what makes this soup a culinary classic.
They lose their sharp, vegetal flavor and gain the depth and sweetness that has us coming back for more.
To caramelize onions properly you need the patience of a saint.
The thinly sliced onions must be cooked over medium heat for about an hour.
Rushing the process by turning up the heat will only burn the ,
onions and make them bitter instead of sweet.
But a few tricks will speed up the process.
Covering the pan for the first 10 minutes will get the onions cooking a lot faster,
and dividing the onions between two pans helps them brown more efficiently.
A little butter in the pan keeps them from sticking and adds nuttiness,
but if the onions get sticky toward the end of cooking,
add a few tablespoons of water to loosen them up. Don't add more butter or they'll end up greasy.
At first, you will have to stir the onions only every once in a while,
but during the last 15 minutes of cooking,
when they've lost their moisture and begun to brown in earnest,
you'll need to be vigilant to keep them from burning.
Don't be tempted to stop cooking once the onions are golden brown -
even though you'll really want to.
Let them keep browning until they reach the color of dark brown sugar.
This is when their flavor really intensifies.
A shortcut: Not everyone has the patience to caramelize onions on the stove.
We found that the Crock-Pot offers a decent shortcut.
Slice the onions and toss them in the slow-cooker with a few tablespoons of butter.
Cover and set on high for 8 hours, or low for 12 hours.
If you can, give them a stir every few hours to ensure even cooking.
The onions will get dark and cook down,
but the flavor won't be as intense as those cooked on the stove - they'll taste a bit stewed.
To give them a boost, saute them in a pan with a little butter and salt before adding to the soup.
Click Here for How to Prepare the croutons
Click Here for how to prepare the onions