When my twitter friend, Mel, a.k.a. Piglet from The Adventures of Miss Piggy, tweeted that she was craving French onion soup, I smiled, as I had had a similar hankering all week and had bought onions from the greengrocer that day so I could make some for Peter.
Darren Templeman, chef/owner of Restaurant Atalier, famous for modern French cuisine, also saw the tweet, so it wasn't long before Piglet and 'the Boy' visited Atalier at Glebe to enjoy a very fine bowl of Darren's French onion soup. 'It was delicious and exactly what I had been craving', Mel said later. Nothing like having your hunger pangs satisfied!
Popular across the continents, soupe à l'oignon gratinée as it is known in France, makes a delicious and hearty mid winter meal. In her book, Cooking and Travelling in South-West France, Stephanie Alexander says that the classic soup is served in many Paris bistros, and that she can't help wondering whether it was inspired by Le Tourin, a smooth but strong-tasting peasant soup made from a dozen or more cloves of garlic.
Having perused several cookbooks in my collection, I note there are only slight variations to the recipe for French onion soup. It's been on my repertoire for the last 30 years and I have developed my favourite way of preparing it. Simple, fuss free, and tasty. There are few ingredients, but they should be fresh, as always.
Here's my take, together with some hints from talented chef, Darren Templeman. Piglet, this one is for you. Bon appétit.
ONION SOUP FRENCH STYLE GRATINÉE
5-6 brown onions, peeled, finely sliced
2 litres of beef stock* (or good quality vegetable stock!)
1 clove garlic, peeled, chopped
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
two small baguettes or bread rolls
100g Gruyère cheese, grated
Melt the butter in a stockpot or saucepan over a low heat. I use a Simmer Mat heat diffuser, so that the butter and onions won't catch. Add the sliced onions and cook gently for about half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the onion is deep brown.
(Darren's tip number one is to make sure you caramelise the onions to a deep brown colour, without burning them, so you release the sweetness).
Sprinkle over the flour and stir briefly to mix it in with the onions (the cooked flour help to thicken the soup). Stir in the beef stock and chopped garlic. Then cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes longer until the onions are very tender.
(Tip two from Darren is to use a good stock or take the time to prepare one ahead of schedule if possible).
Meanwhile, as the soup is almost finished, slice the baguettes and place them onto a lined baking tray. Sprinkle with grated Gruyère and place under a grill to allow the cheese to melt slightly. Then, my tip is to add another generous sprinkle of the cheese and grill until the cheese has melted and is beautifully golden.
Now, taste the soup and season it with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and place the delicious morsels of bread and cheese on top. Serve immediately. This quantity will serve four.
Note: Darren also suggests adding an old fashioned bouquet garni tied with string, so you can remove the herbs altogether in one go. And, just before serving, add a good splash of madeira which will round off the soup beautifully. Sounds delicious and I may well amend my recipe. Thanks Darren!
* I used cultured butter and The Stock Merchant beef stock. If you prefer to use less stock, you can add a little water instead.
The process in pictures...
Do you shout out with a tweet (and then dine out) when you have a craving for a particular food? Do you enjoy French Onion Soup?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.