- Course: Hot Appetizer
- Skill Level: Moderate
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Soupe a L’Oignon Gratiné
When my daughter was a child, she loved a bubbling bowl of cheese-crusted onion soup better than almost anything. For her, I made it without wine. The idea of using Champagne comes from the legend that onion soup was invented by Henri IV one early evening after a hard day’s hunting. He was supposed to have stopped at a peasant hut and asked for something to eat. Embarrassed, the wife replied that she had nothing but onions, some stale bread, and a little fat in the house. The king replied that he would make a soup using the Champagne that he had left.
I would use Champagne only if I had some left and getting flat after a party. (Onion soup is a famous hangover remedy.) Usually, I would substitute a somewhat acid white wine—no sweetness, since the onions are so sweet. Any single stock can be used, although I like the balance of beef and chicken. Country people often made this just with water. I remember Jacques Pepin once making a soup (in A French Chef Cooks at Home) where he broke the crust of a soup that was almost solid with layered bread and sliding in a ladle filled with egg yolks and Port and swished it around in the soup. Vary at will.
There are pale onion soups, but for this one, it is important to cook the onions slowly so they get very dark but do not burn. When the pan is deglazed, the caramelization, a coating on the onions, comes off into the liquid, leaving the onions clear and the soup very dark. The pan must be large enough so that the onions glaze rather than stew in the juices.
- 6 tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter
- 4 large onions, thinly sliced
- 1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine or flat Champagne
- 1 cup (250 ml) Beef Stock or, in England, imported beef or meat stock
- 5½ cups (1.4 L) Basic Chicken Stock or commercial chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, or less if using commercial broth
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Twelve ¾-inch (1.9-cm) diagonal slices Italian or French bread, toasted
- 5 ounces (150 g) Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated (1½ cups)
- 1 cup (60 g) freshly grated Parmesan; or ½ pound (225 g) low-fat mozzarella cheese, sliced across into 32 slices
In a large wide pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions—to keep them from stewing rather than browning, spread them in as close to a single layer as possible. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are very brown and soft, about 30 minutes; they will need more frequent stirring toward the end.
Stir in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan vigorously with a wooden spoon to get up all of the browned bits.
Continue scraping while pouring in the beef stock. Then pour in the chicken stock. Season with the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. The soup can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
To gratiné, preheat the broiler and, if necessary, return the soup to the simmer.
Lay 2 slices of toast in the bottom of each ovenproof bowl or crock, or make two layers of bread in a large earthenware casserole.
If using, mix together the Gruyere and Parmesan. Pour the soup over the slices of bread. Sprinkle the cheese mixture evenly over the soup.
Or, if using the mozzarella, lay 4 thin slices over the top of each serving or all the slices over the entire contents of the casserole.
Place the containers under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes until bubbling and brown.
The soup can be served without the bread and cheese (the gratin). If so, it will make more servings; the bread absorbs a great deal of soup.
© 1998 Barbara Kafka
Note from Cookstr's Editors
Nutritional information is based on 6 servings and includes the French bread, Gruyere cheese, and Parmesan cheese.
Nutritional information does not include Beef Stock or Basic Chicken Stock. For nutritional information on Beef Stock or Basic Chicken Stock, please follow the link above