French Onion Soup with a Chocolate Twist

Fans of the TV show “Portlandia” might recall more than a few references to chocolate in its various forms throughout the series. Though not a cacao connection, yet another now infamous episode spurred the pop culture reference “put a bird on it,” formally acknowledging the modern design aesthetic trend of putting fowl on everything from pillows to t-shirts to bedspreads to lampshades. In the same way that birds, for whatever reason, have seemingly become ubiquitous when it comes to modern home decorating, we at Cocoa Beantown hope to create the same sort of phenomenon for chocolate, or, at the very least, cacao, in food and in life. On the one hand, this concept is pretty well understood–chocolate in desserts are always the best-sellers on any restaurant menu, but when it comes to the savory side of things, things can be a bit trickier. The thing about chocolate is, however, that the bean it comes from is not sweet on its own, and on the whole of culinary history, has been more often used in savory cooking than dessert, which really developed out of our modern love (and access to) sugar. It is with all these things in mind, and, the current predicament of being subjected to extended stay at home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, that we decided to take a classic example of French cooking, and incorporate something that the French are also quite good at making–chocolate. After a bit of brainstorming and analysis of flavors, it was determined that the best way to do this might in fact be to incorporate a beer, stout, or ale that already had cocoa notes in it. Enter the following product, located at Trader Joe’s one fine (pre-COVID) day:

 

While it sat on the pantry shelf for a bit of time as recipe research and development occurred, it turns out that the coronavirus quarantine served as the perfect inspiration for this cocoa culinary adventure.

In the end, this soup was FANTASTIC and well worth the effort. Truth be told, while it was an experiment, this now is definitely going to be a recipe worth repeating. The most time-consuming aspect of the whole thing was caramelizing the onions. The magic really comes out while focusing on doing this on very low heat, which meant it was a very slow process–in this case, it took over an hour. But man, did it coax out those naturally sweet flavor notes, which paired so nicely with the cocoa stout.

Some folks might have stopped there in the caramelization process, but go a little further, and you’ll find magic in your pot!

 

As for the beer, there are a few other options out there to choose from, when it comes to ones that include cocoa notes, including Foothill’s Sexual Chocolate, Epic Brewing Big Bad Baptist Chocolate Rapture, and Boulevard Chocolate Ale. But even when it comes to your own experimentation, think of it as a pairing exercise and analyze the compatibility of those sweet, warm, toasty, and even slightly spicy flavors that can present in your soup, and how the chocolate beer addition can potentially enhance them.

Look at that beautiful brown goodness!

Most of all, enjoy the process! Soups are fun to make because you can taste them as you go and modify them in all sorts of directions without really messing them up. Once you achieve the profile you like, remember, its only going to get better the more it sits! We let this pot of soup cool down and sit in the fridge for a full 36 hours before enjoying the first bowl, which is definitely not required, but certainly didn’t hurt how fantastic the final flavor ended up being!

Produce
  • 4 large sweet onions  (sliced about a quarter inch thick)
Canned Goods
  • 4 cups beef stock
Condiments
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Baking & Spices
  • 1 tsp black pepper, fresh ground
  • 1 tbsp thyme, fresh
  • 1 tbsp rosemary, fresh
  • 1 bay leaf
Fats & Oils
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-4 tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)
Bread & Baked Goods
  • slices of French bread or country loaf (toast in oven on cookie sheet at 200F, flipping sides for equal “drying out”–the goal is essentially to make giant croutons)
Dairy
  • assorted grated cheeses (suit to taste!)
  • white cheddar, parmesan, provolone was used in our case
  • gruyere is most traditional
Beer, Wine & Liquor
  • 1 12 oz bottle chocolate stout beer
Instructions
  • In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat oil and 1 tbsp butter over medium high heat.
  • Add onions to pot
  • Turn heat to medium low, and cook uncovered for about 45-60 minutes, or until the onions are fully brown, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and caramelized. Watch carefully for any signs of burning, and turn heat lower if needed. Add additionally slices of butter if need be. The lower and slower your onions go, the more you will carefully extract all those beautiful sweet flavors that are naturally in there.
  • Add the stout to the caramelized onions and stir, making sure to scrape up all the brown bits on your pot.
  • Add the beef broth, worcestershire sauce, black pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and rosemary, stirring well. Bring heat up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  • Take pot off stovetop and cool completely before refrigerating 24-36 hours before serving to allow flavors to deepen
  • When ready to serve, heat over stovetop
  • Ladle soup into ramekin(s) on a baking sheet
  • Float toasted french bread on top of each, and pile shredded cheese on top of the toasted bread.
  • Turn broiler on HIGH and put ramekins under broiler for about 3-5 minutes to give a golden crust to the cheese. (watch carefully so as not to burn)
  • Serve hot

Notes

If you can’t wait to eat your soup and want to skip the resting period in the fridge, simply ladle soup into ramekins once done simmering on stovetop and proceed to garnish with bread and cheese and put under broiler. Soup can be made vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock for the beef stock.