The Thinker, Musée Rodin
French Onion Soup. The ultimate peasant food featuring humble ingredients expertly prepared, with a taste that is fit for a king. It is easy to understand why French cuisine is so revered, when one considers the flavors French cooks have managed to coax from little more than field onions, bones, and stale bread.
Soupe à l’oignon, café in 17th arrondissement
Interestingly, soupe à l’oignon has fallen out of favor with native Parisians who no longer have economic necessity to build a meal around bones instead of meat. French chefs are happy to prepare this dish for American expatriates, however, given its healthy profit margin. It’s a win-win situation, really, as Americans accustomed to canned broth know upon their first taste of this authentic dish that their bowl is well worth the price!
Soupe à l’oignon, café in 5th arrondissement
While this dish is absurdly easy to prepare, it does require some time. I recommend beginning this dish two days before you plan to enjoy it, for best results. The broth itself freezes well. Sometimes I double the broth recipe, freeze it in 1 quart containers, and spend 30 minutes or so on the last few steps whenever I have a craving for this fantastic soup.
Ingredients (makes 2 main dish servings or 4 first course servings)
1 1/2 pounds of beef bones
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups tomato-based vegetable juice
2 cups water
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, sliced thin
4 thick slices of day-old French bread
2/3 cup grated gruyere cheese
Step 1) Combine bones, wine, juice, water, and peppercorns in a slow cooker. Set heat to low and simmer, covered, for 24 hours.
Step 2) Strain broth into a large bowl and place in freezer. As the broth cools, the saturated fat will rise to the top and solidify. You will be able to “lift” the saturated fat right off of the broth as shown, and discard it. Your broth will not be completely fat-free, but will be much lower in fat (and have a less oily, more pleasing taste) than if you had skipped this step.
Step 3) 30 minutes before you plan to dine, begin simmering broth in a saucepan over low heat.
Step 4) Caramelize onions in butter by stirring in a sauté pan over low-medium heat for approximately 10 minutes.
Step 5) Divide caramelized onions between 2 large or 4 small oven-safe bowls.
Step 6) Divide bread between bowls and layer on top of onions. Slowly ladle broth over bread to fill bowls within 1/2 inch of top. (Freeze any extra broth for future recipes!)
Step 7) Sprinkle grated gruyere cheese over top of bread. Broil (low setting) for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted, bubbly, and beginning to brown.
Step 8) Serve on trivets or other protected surface, as bowls will be hot.