French Onion Soup with Bovril & Comte

In the dark depths of winter, few recipes warm the soul more than a steaming bowl of French onion soup. At this time of year little grows in the garden but the sets of onions drying in the cellar are at their best. 

This recipe would make most French chefs turn in their graves as it replaces a real beef stock with Bovril. But using Bovril, above a laboriously prepared beef stock, saves time and also reminds me of home.  As a young boy, sniffling with cold, a warm cup of Bovril was better than any medicine. 

Developed in Canada, by a Scottish entrepreneur, to feed French troops, this dark and salty gloop of boiled down beef bones, provided an easily transportable source of protein for fatigued troops in the Franco-Prussian War. Bovril continued as a 'war food' in the trenches of World War One and as a result quickly became a British household name. If you don't have bulbous jar of Bovril to hand, beef stock makes a fine substitute. 

  • 6 onions
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • Brown sugar
  • 1.75 litres Bovril (or beef stock)
  • 1 glass of chardonnay
  • 1 baguette
  • 1 bay Leaf
  • a small bundle of fresh thyme. 
  • 200g Comte
  • Salt & Pepper

1. Peel and thinly slice the onions and leave them to soften in 50g butter over a medium heat. Stir them regularly until they are soft, sticky and amber in colour. Add a heaped teaspoon of brown sugar and keep turning gently until the onions are caramelised and browning at the edges.  

2. Boil the kettle and in a jug add 1.75 litres of boiling water and three tablespoons of Bovril. Stir well. 

3. Deglaze the onions with your glass of chardonnay and take one for yourself.  Stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour and cook for a further three minutes before pouring in 1.75 litres of the Bovril liquid or stock. Drop in the bay leaf and thyme, partially cover with a lid and leave to simmer for three quarters of an hour. 

4. While the soup is simmering away, slice six thick slices from your baguette. Pour some olive oil in a saucer and dip each slice in the saucer to mop up a little oil. Place on a baking tray and cook under the grill until toasted.  

5. Season the soup with salt and ground black pepper and ladle the gubbins and liquid evenly into six deep, ovenproof ramekins. Place a slice of toasted baguette into each ramekin and cover with sliced Comte.

6. Garnish with a little thyme and black pepper and bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes or grill until the cheese has melted and is browning at the edges. 

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