Welcome back, fans and soon-to-be-fans of The Adventure Zone! This week I’m revisiting the Amnesty arc with a recipe inspired by the best French Onion Soup that Duck Newton‘s ever had in his entire life.
For those just joining us, The Adventure Zone is a podcast featuring the McElroy Brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin of My Brother, My Brother, and Me) and their father Clint McElroy as they play Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games together.
As I stated earlier, today’s recipe is from their current Monster-of-the-Week campaign, Amnesty. In this arc, three residents of Kepler, West Virginia: a park ranger plagued by strange dreams, a stage magician with hidden power, and an artful cryptid-museum owner in need of patrons discover a supernatural side to their small town. Today’s recipe features Justin McElroy’s reluctant hero park ranger with a trash-talking magical sword, Duck Newton as the inspiration for a bowl of soup tasting of Appalachian hometown hospitality.
Click here to skip to the recipe for Duck Newton’s French Onion Soup for the Soul!
Duck Newton, the Chosen One
Kepler-native Duck Newton is a man who has a coyote-ugly relationship with destiny. At the age of eighteen, he starts seeing two visions, the first of a looming nameless evil, and the other a spirit named Minerva who declares him the Chosen One to defeat it. Arming Duck with a Beacon, a blade with cutting wit, and a whole lotta expectation, Minerva ends up driving the young man away with her efforts. Now in his forties, Duck would rather spend his days building model ships, petting his cat, and protecting the sprawling wilderness of the Monongahela National Forest as a park ranger.
What strikes me especially about Duck’s character is his strong connection to the Monongahela National Forest. As the Chosen One in this campaign, Duck’s role is that of a steward and protector. Minerva and Beacon keep trying to direct him, but the only oath that sticks in his heart is the one he made as a forest ranger. It’s not until Duck encounters the first abomination in the woods, the world of Sylvane, and the residents of the Amnesty Lodge where his past comes back to literally haunt him. While still not a fan of destiny, he learns that protecting the forest involves a lot more than saving the trees.
French Onion Soup for the Soul
So we first see Duck Newton’s referenced French Onion Soup during the interlude episode. The player characters and the Amnesty Lodge residents visit Mount Kepler Ski Trails Park and Resort. While Aubrey and Jake Cool Ice hit the slopes, Duck invites Ned to dinner at the Wolf Ember Grille — the resort’s restaurant.
Duck Newton tells Ned that they are going to have the best French Onion Soup he’s ever had in his life. He then confides that when he was eighteen, he came to the restaurant to warm up after falling on the slopes. That was the first time he tried French Onion soup, and it was so good he says:
“That night was the first time I turned down Minerva. Cause all I could think about when she was talking about me putting my life out and risking it all. All I could think about, and I know this is stupid but, all I could think about was all the French Onion Soup I’d missed. And if I died, all the French Onion Soup that I’d miss out on in the future. I swear to God, but I turned down saving the world to eat French Onion Soup.”
To understand what it is about this soup that makes it the best French Onion Soup that Duck Newton has ever tasted, we have to understand Duck Newton. He said the chef gave him the recipe over a decade ago, but he never managed to get it right. I think that’s why Duck never realized what exactly connected him to it.
Taste of the Monongahela
When a dish resonates with someone, there is more often something about it that resonates with a deeper part of one’s self. It could connect you to memories, places, or even people. Duck Newton establishes several times through the campaign that the forest is his top priority, over even his own life. It would make sense then that the soup may incorporate things that subconsciously remind him of Kepler and the Monongahela National Forest.
As I covered in the last Adventure Zone post, the most common tree in this forest is the Sugar Maple. That’s why I used maple syrup to caramelize the onions and garnished the soup with maple-candied black walnuts. Duck mentions he tasted a bit of anise in the soup, but you know what also tastes like anise and is also abundant in the Monongahela? Sassafras.
The trick to a truly delicious French Onion soup is good stock and golden brown onions. I used homemade stock in mine. I suggest Kitchen Essentials Chicken Stock or Better than Boullion if you don’t habitually stew your kitchen scraps. The best way to cook those onions down is low and slow in a cast iron skillet with butter.
I did take some liberties, though. Ned and Duck mention say the bread is brioche, but I found some rustic mountain bread at Kroger that I figured might be more appropriate to the location. Also, there is no “Amish Gruyere” anywhere near me. Duck is right, though. You really need to grate the cheese to get it mixed into that delightful mess of broth and onions.
So here it is, a dish worth living to the next bowl and the next bowl after that. If you enjoyed this taste of The Adventure Zone, please listen to the podcast on the Maximum Fun Network, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, check out their new graphic novel based on their Dungeons & Dragons-inspired Balance arc as it just topped the New York Times Best-Seller list for paperback trade fiction!
Duck, Duck, Soup!
Duck Newton's French Onion Soup
Equipment: Large cast iron or stainless steel skillet with tall sides, large saucepan with lid, four oven-safe soup crocks or 4″ ramekins, cheese grater, and a rimmed baking sheet.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for the bread
- 2 large Vidalia onions, sliced into 1/8″ thin rings
- 1 large red onion, sliced into 1/8″ thin rings
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- kosher salt
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons sassafras tea concentrate
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 quarts (8 cups) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
- 8 half slices of rustic whole wheat bread, 1/2″ thick, toasted
- 16 oz. grated gruyere cheese
- 1 medium garlic clove, peeled and sliced in half.
- 1 batch of maple-candied black walnuts (optional)
- Melt the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Add the onions when the butter starts foaming. Cook for eight minutes, occasionally stirring, until softened.
- Stir in the maple syrup. Turn the heat to low and cook 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring frequently. After 45 minutes, bring the stock to a boil on a separate burner.
- Raise the heat to medium and pour in the cider vinegar, water, and tea concentrate. Simmer for three minutes, then stir in the flour until thoroughly moistened.
- Pour in the boiling stock, a ladleful at a time. Raise the heat to medium-high and simmer 30 minutes. Occasionally skim the surface for excess fat and stir the broth to prevent a skin from forming. Turn off the stove and move the pan to another burner. Stir in kosher salt to taste.
- Butter both sides of the toasted bread and vigorously rub them with the garlic clove until fragrant.
- Scoop a ladle of soup into each of the soup crocks. Place a slice bread over it and top with a handful of grated cheese. Fill the crocks with the remaining soup. Add the other slices of bread and gently push them down to submerge them. Fill the bowls with the remaining cheese.
- Place the crocks on a rimmed baking sheet and place the sheet in the oven on a low broil 3-4 minutes until bubbling and slightly browned.
- Let cool about 5 minutes before topping with maple-candied black walnuts.