Saturday, March 19, 2011

Julia Child's French Onion Soup

During my sophomore year of high school I was introduced to several well known French dishes through my French teacher. poulet provençal, quiche Lorraine, Tomatoes Provencale and or course, the classic, French Onion soup. Given our limited time in the class, as well as most of our general inexperience in the kitchen, these recipes were abbreviated and overly simplified. However, it sparked an interest in French cuisine. As a result, my mother was treated to a four course French dinner on her birthday, including a second attempt at French Onion Soup.

I cannot recall how that second attempt went. Though I do know it was not as complex and time consuming as the one by the Mother of all classic French cuisine: Julia Child. After a bit of hunting I came across a posting by another foodie boasting a old recipe from Julia Child's cooking show, "The French Chef"

adapted from a Julia Child recipe found at

serves 6-8

The Ingredients:
5 -6 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons flour
6 cups beef stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup wine (dry red or white)
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
salt and pepper
12 ounces swiss cheese, grated
4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 raw yellow onion
2 -3 tablespoons cognac
8 slices French bread (about 1 inch thick)
4 tablespoons olive oil, for drizzling

The Process:
Place heavy bottom stock pot or dutch over over medium-low heat.
Add 1 Tbs cooking oil, 2Tbs butter to pot. Add sliced onions and stir until they are evenly coated with the oil. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until they are very tender and translucent.

To brown or caramelize the onions turn heat under pot to medium or medium high heat. Add 1/2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt and continue to cook uncovered, stirring frequently until the onions have browned and reduced significantly. Once caramelized, reduce heat to medium-low and add 3 Tbs flour to the onions. Brown the flour for about 2-3 minutes trying not to scorch it. (If the flour does not form a thick paste, you can add a bit more butter here).

Stir in about 1 cup of warm stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up all of the cooked-on bits. Add the rest of the stock, wine, sage, and bay leaf to the soup. Simmer for 30 minutes.

To make the "croutes" (toasted bread), heat oven to 325 degrees F. Drizzle each side of the bread slices with a bit of olive oil and place on baking sheet. Cook the croutes for 15 minutes in oven on each side (30 minutes total).

Check the soup for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaf (if you can find it). Transfer to a casserole dish. At this point you can add the 2-3 Tbs cognac and grate the 1/2 raw onion into the soup. Add a few ounces of the swiss cheese directly into the soup and stir. Place the toasted bread in a single layer on top of the soup. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese in a thick layer on top of the bread making sure to cover the edges of the toast to prevent burning. Drizzle with a little oil or melted butter. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Turn on broiler and brown cheese well.

Let cool for a few minutes

My Modifications:
My beef stock was unfortunately of the bouillon variety instead of homemade, but it is a rare instance we find ourselves in possession of a beef bone to make stock with. The wine of choice was a dry red. Here I should have done a bit more research as the red I used turned the stock a purplish hue, though the soup itself reduced to a much deeper brown as it simmered on the stove top. I've seen on a few forums on this very issue as it relates to coq au vin. Some varieties turn the meat a unsightly (though still tasty) color, while others impart all of the flavor without the discoloration. Burgundy seems to be the wine of preference...

I omitted the cognac and additional raw onion. My cheese was a blend of mozzarella, asiago, Parmesan, Romano and provolone. And my croutes were made from day old rye bread instead of crusty French bread.

The Review:
Incredibly time consuming, but well worth the effort. The smell called like a siren before we let the molten cheese cool enough...resulting in burned lips and tongues. But once it cooled enough to enjoy, we were in pure soup heaven. That extra time in preparation and cooking blessed us with a soup that was rich, thick and complex. The rye added a surprisingly complimentary flavor to the mix. I'm eager to try it again, only this time around with the crusty French Bread and cognac added.

1 comment:

  1. Yum. Freaky brainwave: we got FO soup at the next place on the list last night. It was not as good looking as yours.