After I graduated from high school, I deferred my acceptance to college and took a sabbatical year. What does a budding epicure do with a year of freedom? Go to Paris, of course! To be truthful, at that time in my life I had hardly caught the culinary bug. I went to Paris to become a photographer, and ended up falling in love with art history. Yet inevitably, the city’s gastronomical powers took hold of me and I was smitten – with macarons, with cassoulet, with steak frites and, most of all, with French Onion Soup.
Perhaps not as glamorous as oysters at Le Dome or duck at Tour d’Argent (which I’ve never done, by the way, but it’s on my list), French onion soup is omnipresent at the adorable corner bistros and thus a reliable friend during the long and rainy Parisian winter. Not to mention the fact that it is just so darn delicious. The heady smell of a winey, beefy broth is intertwined with the savory aromas of browning Swiss cheese as you cup your hands around the lions-head porcelain bowl at your favorite neighborhood stop.
My favorite onion soup story comes from my second lengthy stay in Paris, during my Junior year of college. RJ came to visit me – his first trip abroad – and we found out we shared a love of the soup! When we looked for places to eat lunch or dinner, I always checked the menu for onion soup since it was one thing I knew would not offend his delicate palate, and no hidden vegetables would appear to ruin his meal! One evening, we stopped into “Le Christine” – a tiny restaurant in the Latin Quarter. RJ predictably ordered the Soupe a L’Oignon. When my first course arrived, RJ was approached by the host. In his hand was the handle of a large kettle. Placed before RJ was a plate of handmade croutons and freshly grated gruyere. The host ladled the soup from the kettle into RJ’s bowl, and RJ garnished his own soup. It was quite a presentation, and since then RJ has loved Paris, and requests French onion soup as soon as winter sets in.
Soupe a L’Oignon (French Onion Soup), adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 1/2 lbs. or about 5 c. of thinly sliced yellow onions
3 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. oil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
3 Tbs. flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart stock or bouillon
1/2 c. dry white wine or dry white vermouth
salt and pepper to taste
12 to 16 slices of French bread cut 3/4 to 1 inch thick
olive oil or beef drippings
1 cut clove of garlic
3 Tbs. cognac
1 to 2 c. grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. In one pot, keep the stock/broth/bouillon hot. In another, cook the onions in the butter and oil over medium-low heat, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning. Set aside uncovered until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, place the bread in one layer in a roasting pan and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about half an hour, until it is thoroughly dried out and lightly browned. Halfway through the baking, each side may be basted with a teaspoon of olive oil or beef drippings. After baking, each piece may be rubbed with cut garlic.
Preheat the oven’s broiler and move an oven rack to the highest it can go while still fitting your soup bowls.
Reheat soup to a simmer. Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pour the soup into an oven-proof tureen or individual soup bowls. Float the rounds of toast on top of the soup, and spread the grated cheese over it [I had my first bowl made this way, but found that most of the cheese fell into the soup. My second bowl, I cut thick slices of gruyere and lay them over the toast round, which gave the top of the soup a nice thick cheese topping.] Broil for 3-7 minutes until the cheese is nice and bubbly and beginning to brown around the edges.
Katherine, I sent this link to my daughter. Onion Soup is her absolute favorite (TCC’s is pretty good s well) and she is going to France in the Spring. She is also doing and independent spring project on cooking for school. Have any good pate recipes? When we were in France we were struck by how some restaurants pass big vats of Pate form table to table and each patron takes as much as they want. BTW, I play hockey with and am a friend of your mother – love her!
Mary, thanks so much for stopping in! Feel free to have your daughter shoot me an email – I have favorite itineraries and restaurants all over that country! The only pate I’ve ever made was with a full-on goose liver – mom and I were in cooking school and made foie gras pate. Delicious! But I don’t recommend attempting to de-vein the goose liver until you’ve seen a professional do it. Our first attempts were disasters…