I suppose caramelizing onions for five hours seems a little crazy, maybe almost obsessive, but when the fruits of your labors yield a rich, brothy, oniony (pretty sure that's not a word) concoction beneath a mound of toasted bread and melting cheese, I think this is where the lines between crazy and genius start to blur. With an overflowing bookcase of cookbooks I had my pick of fabulous recipes by any number of celebrated chefs, but for French onion soup there was only one: Thomas Keller.
I first fell in love with Thomas Keller after eating his mussels and scallops at Bouchon in Las Vegas. I knew it was true love after making his buttermilk fried chicken from Ad Hoc, his newest restaurant venture proclaiming simply to be "for temporary relief from hunger." Pretty sure that with fig-stuffed roast pork loin and leek bread pudding on the menu it offers something more closely in line with pure bliss, than temporary relief.
But, back to onion soup. As with most things worth savoring, sweating the details in preparation will pay off dividends and your palate and stomach will thank you. With Thomas Keller, however, it tends to go beyond just sweating the details, particularly when the Bouchon cookbook has two whole pages dedicated simply to "The Importance of Onion Soup" and sidebars on the versatility of onions and the necessity to serve in the proper vessel (apparently without the proper bowl the ratio of broth, onions, cheese, and croutons will be out of sync). Needless to say that last bit scared me into running immediately out to World Market to fetch the perfect little crocks.
With two paragraphs describing the perfect way to slice the onions (all eight pounds of them) so that they are uniform and caramelize evenly, I was a little nervous before I'd even begun, but once I got the hang of it (and had a couple glasses of wine), I tore through all eight pounds in no time. The perfectly sliced onion strings almost didn't fit in my Dutch oven, but quickly began to reduce down and alleviate any fears that I would not be able to fit another ingredient in the pot.
With a bevy of classics and French films in my DVD collection, thus began my marathon of stirring the onions every 15 minutes in between viewings of Amelie and Paris When it Sizzles. By the end of it I was left with a glorious (surprisingly small) mound of golden onions to which I added a sachet of bay, peppercorns, and thyme, along with the broth (unfortunately not homemade, but can you blame me after stirring onions for five hours?). After an hour simmering in the broth the end was in sight. I added toasted baguette and aged Comte to create that delicious bubbling crust. And, we dug in. Thomas Keller's attention to detail was so worth it. C'est magnifique!