Make this soup in ovenproof soup crocks.
A propane torch is a very handy-dandy piece of equipment, especially if your stove is not the greatest. Nearly all professional kitchens have them; they’re not very expensive and they can be used for a variety of sneaky tasks, such as easily caramelizing the top of crème brûlée or toasting meringues.
Half-assed alternative: Your broiler sucks. Your oven isn’t much better. Can’t find those ovenproof crocks anywhere. And you ain’t ponying up for a damn propane torch, ’cause your kid’s got pyromaniac tendencies. You can simply toast cheese over the croutons on a sheet pan, and float them as garnish on the soup. Not exactly classic—but still good.
- 1In a large pot, heat the butter over medium heat until it is melted and begins to brown. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and browned (about 20 minutes). Onion soup, unsurprisingly, is all about the onions. Make damn sure the onions are a nice, dark, even brown color.
- 2Increase the heat to medium high and stir in the port wine and the vinegar, scraping all that brown goodness from the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Add the chicken stock. Note that the better and more intense your stock, the better the soup’s going to be. This soup, in particular, is a very good argument for making your own. Add the bacon and the bouquet garni, and bring to a boil.
- 3Reduce to a simmer, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, skimming any foam off the top with a ladle. Remove the bouquet garni.
For the croutons and cheese:
- 1When the soup is finished cooking, ladle it into the individual crocks. Float two croutons side by side on top of each. Spread a generous, even heaping amount of cheese over the top of the soup. You want some extra to hang over the edges as the crispy, near-burnt stuff that sticks to the outer sides of the crocks is often the best part, once it comes out from under the heat.
- 2Place each crock under a preheated, rip-roaring broiler until the cheese melts, bubbles, browns, and even scorches slightly in isolated spots. The finished cheese should be a panorama of molten brown hues ranging from golden brown to dark brown to a few black spots where the cheese blistered and burned. Serve immediately—and carefully. You don’t know pain until you’ve spilled one of these things.
- 3If your broiler is too small or too weak to pull this off, you can try it in a preheated 425°F/220°C oven until the cheese is melted. A nice optional move: Once the mound of grated cheese starts to flatten out in the oven, remove each crock and, with a propane torch, blast the cheese until you get the colors you want.
Beverage pairing: Argyle Pinot Noir, Oregon. Depending on the depth and meatiness of the stock you use in this soup, you could go with wines of varying weight. Pinot Noir captures the middle ground, and this one from Oregon brings deep plum and berry fruit as well as a touch of smoke and lush texture to match the soup.
This recipe, while from a trusted source, may not have been tested by the CHOW food team.