Last week was cold. So very cold. Single digits during the day, negatives at night. Every day it was home, work, and back again. No dilly dallying, I even skipped going to the gym. Four layers, including my extra heavy wool sweater. And because of the extra cold temperatures all I could think about was French Onion Soup. If I’m lucky enough to find it on a menu at a restaurant, I almost always order it. A nice warm, crock topped with melted cheese and a bowlful of deep onions in a rich broth is the ultimate comfort food to me. So I couldn’t wait for the weekend, as I planned on checking out Mastering the Art of French Cooking and seeing what Julia Child’s authentic recipe looked like.
I sat down one evening to watch her cooking show and was thrilled to find they are now repeating “The French Chef,” on a PBS channel. This was Julia Child’s first cooking show from 1963, black and white with the happy little diddy as the theme song. And what was she making that night but French Onion Soup! I saw it as a sign from the cooking gods that it was meant to be!
I figured Julia Child would tell the cook that in order to make it authentic you’d have to make your own beef broth. But she actually calls for canned beef bouillon, so I was saved from the extra effort. I had two cups of leftover beef broth and two cups of broth left over from a pot roast. I bought “Better Than Bouillon” for the other quart. Although, I have an admission; my math was off and I ended up doubling the amount, which lent a saltier than usual flavor. (OK, a really salty soup.) Math was and still is not my strong suit, so another kitchen lesson learned: when multiplying a recipe, always double-check my math–or ask someone else to check it for me!
While the recipe is fairly simple with few pots and pans, it is time consuming; she says to count on 2 ½ hours at the least from start to finish. Definitely a weekend project or one if you have the day off. And have a good book or magazine or plan to organize your shelves as you need to be close to your pot for nearly an hour before you are able to go off and do something else.
My changes were minimal. Instead of a pound and a half or five cups of sliced onions, I just bought a two-pound bag; there were several small onions in there and figured too many onions won’t ruin the dish. Instead of grated cheese, I bought some nice baby Swiss cheese from the deli and just added pieces to the soup. And, in my opinion, a teaspoon of salt is way too much if you’re using canned broth. I added a little and would suggest adding the rest to taste.
One tip, though, since it is winter and the house is sealed up, remove all coats, sweaters, and any other clothing you don’t want have smell like eau d’oignon; it does have a way of lingering–in the kitchen and on your clothing!
By the time I finished eating this, I was nice and toasty warm. Pure comfort in a bowl. I hope you try making this too and enjoy it as much as I did!
Soupe À L’Oignon
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simon Beck.
For six to eight servings
1 ½ lbs. or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
3 Tb butter
1 Tb oil
A heavy-bottomed, 4 quart covered saucepan
Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes.
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar (helps the onions to brown)
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.
3 Tb flour
Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes
2 quarts boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart of stock or bouillon
½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste
Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.
(*) Set aside uncovered until ready to serve. Then reheat to a simmer.
3 Tb cognac
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread (**see instructions)
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese
Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pour into a soup tureen or soup cups over the rounds of bread, and pass the cheese separately.
**12-16 slices of French bread cut ¾ to 1 inch thick. 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.