RE: How do I make great french onion soup?
Well, I'm glad to see this thread revived, because I just recently asked the lovely and talented lleechef for advice. She spent years in France, and here's how the "locals" do it, including some "soup lore":
Well, first some history about French onion soup. When you go to a wedding in Francophile land, the party starts in the afternoon, after the Hotel de Ville (town hall) ceremony (champagne for everyone), then there is the Roman Catholic church ceremony. More champagne. Now we get to the good part, the reception. There is much wine and champagne flowing, at least a 6-course meal (tongue in Madeira sauce, foie gras, a baron of lamb, etc. Croquembouche for dessert). Now it's 2AM and we're all pretty ****-faced, and this is where the onion soup comes into play. NO, NO, the French don't give you COFFEE to sober up, it's onion soup. Trust me, I'm not making it up.
The verb "souper" means to have supper, that is the evening meal and in the farm country of France it was exactly that. Soup. Salad. Cheese. Bread.
Here's what we do when we're all drunk in France and need to sober up:
Saute about 4 onions, sliced, in 1/2 stick of butter. Flambe with a little Cognac. Add the beef stock. Simmer until onions are tender.
Take a baguette, cut into rounds about 3/4 inch, brush with butter or olive oil and bake until crispy. Now ladle out your soup into oven-proof SMALL crocks, plunk a toasted baguette on top, top with plain old Swiss cheese, run under the broiler. Serve up your salad and enjoy. Don't burn your mouth on the cheese.