The Tiny Problem with Alton Brown’s French Onion Soup Recipe
Alton Brown is the ultimate food nerd. I’ve been a fan of his hit television show Good Eats ever since the original season aired in 1999, and I consider him the king of writing recipes that actually work. After all, they’re backed by science!
When brainstorming which recipes to include in our French onion soup showdown, it only felt right to include Alton’s. His recipe gets four stars on FoodNetwork.com, and with it’s bubbly, cheesy topping, it certainly looks the part. Here’s what happened when I whipped up a batch at home.
Get the recipe: Alton Brown’s French Onion Soup
How to Make Alton Brown’s French Onion Soup
Brown’s recipe starts off by instructing you to set an electric skillet to 300°F, although a regular skillet over low heat would probably work just fine. You’ll add butter and a layer of sliced onions, sprinkle them with salt, then add another layer of onions on top and sprinkle with additional salt. Let the onions cook undisturbed in the skillet until they have “sweated down,” then continue to cook them, stirring occasionally, until they are a dark mahogany color. Brown notes that you shouldn’t worry about them burning, so don’t be too precious about cooking them.
You’ll then add white wine to the onions and cook until the wine has reduced to a syrup. To that, add beef consommé (a clear, concentrated type of beef broth), chicken broth, unfiltered apple cider, and a bouqet garni — a fancy term for a bunch of herbs tied together with string. Reduce the heat and let simmer. As the soup is cooking, slice country bread into rounds and toast them under a broiler. Season the finished soup with salt, pepper, and a splash of cognac.
Remove the bouqet garni from the soup and ladle the soup into crocks. Top each crock with a round of toasted bread and shredded Gruyère cheese, and broil until the cheese is melted and golden.
My Honest Review of Alton Brown’s French Onion Soup
This recipe is solid, but a bit predictable and nothing to rave about. The bouqet garni adds a pleasant herby flavor to the broth, and the beef consommé makes the soup taste richer and more unctuous compared to some of the others soups I tested. But even so, the soup just didn’t have that rich savoriness I look for in a really good French onion soup.
I think the biggest issue with this soup is the addition of apple cider. The acidic apple flavor was overpowering, and made the soup too sweet for my liking. If I were to make this recipe again, I would omit the cider altogether and use additional beef consommé in its place.
Overall, Alton’s recipe is a safe choice, and without the apple cider I can see this soup tasting really delicious.
If You’re Making Alton Brown’s French Onion Soup, a Few Tips
1. Ditch the apple cider. The cider made the soup too sweet and gave it an overwhelming apple flavor. I would recommend omitting it completely, and using additional beef consommé instead.
2. Make sure to use beef consommé, not beef broth: Consommé is a clear, concentrated type of beef broth that can be found in the canned soup section of most grocery stores. It makes this soup taste rich and unctuous, so don’t substitute regular ol’ beef broth. If you can’t find beef consommé, you can make it yourself (although it’s a bit of work).
3. Plan to cook the onions for over an hour: Brown’s recipe instructs you to cook the onions in a skillet until they are a dark mahogany color, which took me a little over an hour to achieve. If you’re planning to make this recipe, slot out a good chunk of time to fully cook the onions so they are as sweet as possible.
Have you ever made Alton Brown’s French onion soup? Tell us what you thought!