Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée - French Onion Soup

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Here I am ... channeling my inner Julia Child with her Soupe à l'Oignon. 

Who doesn't love a comforting and warming bowl of exquisite flavours brought about by the humble onion and a generous splash of red wine? Who doesn't love a spoonful of aromatic broth with slivers of caramelized onion? And what about the slight crunch of a baguette along with the ooze of creamy gruyere? Swoon! 

In every other dish, this aromatic bulb takes an important, but supporting role, in making it rise out of the ordinary. However, in this soup, the modest onion is now front and center, and is the star. Boy, does it shine! But to assume it's just going to come together really quickly ... naah! not gonna happen. This baby needs to be coaxed out to caramelize its sweet juices over a few hours. Time, my friends, is the ultimate ingredient here. Dominique Ansel was spot on in this one!

Hope I didn't scare y'all off there. Yes, it takes hours. This time it was 4 hours to be exact, but really, once most of the prep is done, it's just a matter of a stir and a shake while you ... er ... bake a cinnamon streusel coffee cake, and clean the kitchen, and do your laundry. (You can tell I was really productive that afternoon).

Can you do it in the slow cooker? Of course you can! I just didn't think it would take on the complex flavours that one would get in a Dutch oven or even in my heavy bottomed stainless pot. Tried them both and I'll probably stick to my cast iron Dutch oven from now on. (My daughter will tell you that I forgot to stir for 15 minutes or so and some slivers burnt on the stainless pan, on a low heat on a covered pan). Can't help but be partial now ;)
What did I take from Julia? The addition of flour to make it a little 'heavier' aka 'comforting' and the best part ... Brandy! Even though wine was already involved, a generous amount, I may add, that bit of brandy (and I tried it with and without) took it to a another level. If I mentioned that onions were the main actor here, that bit of Brandy is going to make it win the Oscars. I'm sold!

What I didn't? I took a pass on the raw onions before the gratinée and I subbed the beef broth with chicken and veggie broth. Also, instead of just one type of allium, I used most yellow, but some red and a few shallots.

Recipes, after all, are just suggestions, and you can most definitely put your spin on any recipe, even if it's Julia's ;)

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
6 large onions (about 1.5 kg) yellow and red, sliced
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
Ground black pepper
1/4 cup flour
8 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable)
4 bay leaves
1 tsp sage
1 cup red wine (Julia used white), optional
1/2 cup brandy, optional

8 baguette slices, toasted
2 to 3 cups Gruyére cheese, grated

1. On medium heat, melt butter and olive oil in a cast-iron Dutch oven.
2. Add onions, stir well, and cover until the onions have started steaming, about 15 minutes, on medium-low heat.

3. Season with salt, sugar, and a generous amount of black pepper.
4. Stir to coat evenly, turn up the heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, stirring every now and then, for about 1 hour.
Cook until the onions are completely cooked down and are an orange-amber in colour. The water should also be evaporated. If it looks like it's burning on the bottom of the pan, turn the heat down a little.

5. When the onions turn a light brown walnut colour, add the flour and stir for a minute.
6. Slowly add the broth while stirring it in, followed with the bay leaves and sage, and the red wine.
7. Partially cover the pan, and simmer for 1 hour until the broth has reduced slightly.

8. Taste, season, and go ahead and add that splash of brandy.

To gratinée:
9. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
10. Place the slices of baguette on it and bake for about 15 minutes depending on how crispy you like it. Remove from the oven.

11. Ladle the soup into oven-safe bowls, placing these bowls on the same parchment lined paper.
12. Place the baguette slices onto the bowls, topping with the grated cheese.
13. Broil until the cheese melts.

Serve right away.

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