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|Time||10 minutes prep.; 35 minutes cooking|
French Onion Soup is a classic French soup prepared, in its most fundamental form, by boiling sliced onions in water. More complex varieties involve bouillon, wine, and spices.
Onion soups have been popular in France since Roman times; traditionally regarded as food for people of humble means, due to the abundance of onions and the ease with which they can be grown. The modern version of this soup emerged in France around the 17th century and features dry bread (or croutons), beef bouillon, and caramelized onions.
Legend would have it that the soup was invented by Louis XV of France—"who, as it were, had returned late one night to his hunting lodge, to find nothing more in the larder than onions, butter, cheese, and Champagne. Creative, hungry cook that he was, he mixed them together, and there you have it, the first French Onion soup. Other stories attribute the source of this cultural specialty to Louis XIV.
The Onion Soup Dinner Society
This society, consisting of 20 members, existed during the Bourbon Restoration. The society members met every three months for a dinner which always started with an onion soup. They had sworn to be together until they had all been admitted to the Académie Française, which they finally achieved in 1845.
An ordinary food for family meals, it is served as a simple entrée, garnished with grated Gruyére cheese and croutons (or stale french bread) added just before serving. It can also be consumed at the end of the evening, unadorned, in a mug.
Every locale in France has its own variation on the idea of onion soup, but here is a recipe which contains many of the fundamental building blocks.
- 3 rounded cups of chopped onion
- A knob of butter, a little less than 2 tbsp
- 1 tbsp of flour
- 1.5 liters (roughly 5 and ¼ cups) of beef stock. (Chicken or vegetable stock is an acceptable alternative. You can use plain water, but it is less tasty.)
- 1 bouquet garni (fresh bay, thyme, and Herbes de Provence, tied in a bundle or in a temporary sack made of cheesecloth.)
- A slice of stale french bread, per person. (Or fresh bread, toasted beforehand.)
- 3 tbsp of red port wine (or 3/4 cup of dry white wine or beer, as noted in the variations.)
- 1 cup of grated Gruyére cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Stir in the onions, and let the onions blonde on moderate heat. (Which is to say, let them cook until they are light gold and transparent, but do not let them over-caramelize and become dark.)
- Add the flour to the onions. Stir gently for 3 to 4 minutes. The flour will seem to have disappeared, but has been absorbed into the butter. This will give the soup its characteristic slight thickness. Scrape up any of the dark brown butter and flour mixture that has stuck to the bottom of the saucepan; it is called fond will add flavour to the soup.
- Pour ⅔ of the beef broth over the onions and mix well. Add the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly.
- Season with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg, to taste. Add the rest of the broth, and let the soup simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes.
- If your bread is fresh, then toast it now, on low heat.
- Remove the soup from the heat, and remove the bouquet garni. Add three tablespoons of port and stir well. (do not add port if you added white wine or beer in step 2.)
- Divide the soup into 6 oven-safe ceramic or glass bowls. Press a slice of bread into the top of each bowl of soup. Generously sprinkle grated Gruyére cheese on top. Broil on low for 10 minutes, or until the cheese is au gratin.
- Serve piping hot.
- During step 2, after the flour has had time to mix in butter, you can further brown the mixture in ¾ cup of white wine or beer, before adding the broth. (If you do this, skip adding the port in step 5.)
- In Auvergne, this dish was traditionally eaten by shepherds and drovers. Living nomadically, moving with the herds as they went, it was important for them to keep ingredients that would travel well: onions, lard, and fresh cheese made on the spot from the milk of the cows or ewes. If you would like to make a more traditional recipe, you can replace the butter with lard, and replace the Gruyére with Saint-Nectaire or Tomme cheese. As Auvergne is not wine country, you can replace the wine with a fruit brandy, like plum or pear, for a truly exceptional result.
- "Dîner de la soupe à l'oignon (société du)" by Arthur Dinaux and Gustave Brunet, Les sociétés badines, bachiques, littéraires et chantantes, leur histoire et leurs travaux. Paris, Bachelin-Deflorenne, 1867.