Gourmet Secrets: A broth for professionals only
Soupe à l’oignon or onion soup is considered quintessentially French. In the array of consommés, broths and creams that all fall under ‘soups’, onion soup is rarely made at home. It is definitely a restaurant dish.
The most memorable French onion soup I have had was over 30 years ago in a bistrot in Paris called Au Pied de Cochon. It was an institution. The kind of place you could find classic French dishes like frogs’ legs, escargots (snails) stuffed with garlic, butter and parsley, sole meunière (even more butter and parsley) and one of their specialities, bone marrow with salt.
Time, not thyme
These days, I almost always have a soup, fruit and salad for lunch and therefore find it difficult to understand why more people don’t make soup at home. They are healthy, easy to make, especially if you have a good stock at hand and require very little equipment, except at times, a hand blender or hand vegetable ‘mouli’ or mill. Onion soup doesn’t even require that! But it does take time – the kind of time you can spend on an iPad or reading a magazine or watching TV while you let it cook very, very slowly.
The main ingredient of French onion soup is time. The onions need to be first sliced and browned in a mix of butter and olive oil. Some chefs add a little sugar to caramelise and brown the onions more efficiently without them turning into mush. They then simmer in a good meat stock for a long time to develop a deep rich flavour which is the main characteristic of this soup. It will take you about an hour to an hour and a half to produce a perfect French onion soup with no compromises. The big advantage of this soup is that apart from the initial cooking in butter, the simmering can be left unattended in a big pot with the lid half on.
In France, they use big, yellow onions as the base. I find our red/brown ones work very well too. If you are “off” bread, sprinkle a little cheese on top of the soup and gratinate it under a hot grill. Make sure your soup bowl is oven proof.
The real deal is made by topping a slice of French bread with Swiss cheese or Parmesan, drizzling a few drops of olive oil, and browning under a hot grill before being placed and served on top of the soup. Yet another version is called soupe gratinée des trios gourmands – where an egg yolk is beaten with a little corn flour, Worcestershire sauce and cognac and drizzled in a steady stream into the soup at the table. The legendary late food writer and chef Anthony Bourdain states in his recipe from the Les Halles Cookbook that a dash of Balsamic vinegar, bacon and port adds more flavour.
Paris in a sip
I found a fantastic French onion soup made as tradition demands, not in France as you would expect, but at the cafe/bistro Artisan at Sofitel BKC in Mumbai. A slow cooked broth served in a crock (a mini casserole dish) with bubbling cheese on toasted French bread which hangs over the edges and sticks to the outer side of the crock, is what I was served. The sticky cheese around the edge is really the best, most decadent part of the dish. This is really as good as it gets. Kudos to chef Neeraj Rawoot at Artisan who succeeded in transporting me back to Paris for the afternoon.
French onion soup
400 g onions
10 ml olive oil
10 g butter
8 g thyme
10 g thinly sliced garlic cloves
350 ml dry white wine
1 ltr strong chicken bone broth
4 nos French bread slices
40 g Gruyere cheese
20 g Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Melt the butter with the oil in a large heavy-based pan. Add the onions and sauté for 10 minutes until soft. The onions should be really golden, full of flavour and soft. Add the garlic and thyme. Increase the heat and keep stirring as you gradually add the wine.
Add chicken broth and adjust the seasoning. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Pour the soup in the soup bowl. Take a slice of bread, cut it into round shape using a cutter, and toast it. Put the bread in the soup bowl, add grated Gruyere cheese and Parmesan cheese on top and bake it in the oven until the cheese melts. Serve piping hot.
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on July 22.
From HT Brunch, July 8, 2018
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