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Authentic French Onion - urban tale or does it exist?

itryalot Feb 13, 2009 05:51 PM

Wanted an authentic French onion (soupe a l'ognion gratinee) but have been displeased. I have the Balthazar cookbook and although I adore every recipe I have tried, the onion soup looks different. It uses chicken stock.
Also, it only uses one kind of onion.

I was going to make a good beef broth this weekend, but maybe will wait.
I was not overly thrilled with Epicurious's recipe either.

Is there such a thing as an authentic French Onion Soup recipe or is Balthazar's it?

  1. b
    bigfellow Feb 14, 2009 02:31 PM

    I just don't know. I did some of my apprenticeship in France and have worked with many French chefs. We always sweated the onions in olive oil. Then added a touch of flour. We then added whatever stock we had on hand, beef, veal or pork even. We added a third of chicken stock if we used pork stock.
    Then we added a little sherry.
    It was topped with a homemade crouton and cheese.
    The idea was to <KISS>

    1. paulj Feb 14, 2009 10:33 AM

      Here's a link to the Balthazar version:
      Here the onions are only cooked till golden, not heavily caramelized. The use of chicken stock fits with that, as does the use of white wine.

      As to question of authenticity, do you want to make a dish as cooked in a French country home, or a X star restaurant. A home cook might not spend hours preparing a beef stock just to be used for onion soup. One cookbook says onion soup is a great way of using the broth left over from Pot-au-Feu (boiled dinner).

      The use of bread also suggests home origins. Both Italy and Spain have soups with a bread base. One Italian bread soup is call 'cooked water'. In some version of the the French soup, the bread is floated on top, serving as a support for the melted cheese layer. In others, the bread and cheese are used in multiple layers, and whole thing is baked for half an hour or more - in effect producing a soupy bread casserole.

      1. q
        QSheba Feb 14, 2009 09:21 AM

        Have you tried Julia Child's version? It's in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1 as well as some of her other books. That's my favorite, esp. with a splash of cognac!

        I don't have my book handy but there seem to be quite a few copies of the recipe posted online if you just Google "Julia Child onion soup recipe".

        1. i
          itryalot Feb 14, 2009 07:55 AM

          What is everyone using for wine?
          Red wine? White wine? Other alcohol?

          3 Replies
          1. re: itryalot
            JonParker Feb 14, 2009 08:20 AM

            I use sherry in the CI recipe found here: http://www.cookography.com/2008/the-b...

            It may not be authentic, but it's damned good. The only difference is that I use homemade broth (both beef and chicken) rather than the boxed crap.

            It's a wintertime staple around here.

            1. re: itryalot
              Vetter Feb 14, 2009 09:51 AM

              I usually use a very dry white wine, usually a good, non-oaky chardonnay. If all I have is red, I'll use that, but I prefer that with a hearty stock.

              1. re: itryalot
                kchurchill5 Feb 14, 2009 10:18 AM

                I prefer sherry, cognac is good and someone else wrote even white wine but prefer sherry or the cognac.

                I also have to correct mine, I use parsley sometimes for a light garnish, but I use thyme in my soup. Forgot. apologies... not enough sleep last night.

              2. kchurchill5 Feb 14, 2009 07:24 AM

                Mine has beef broth, 2 onions, butter flour, a light seasoning of fresh parsley, just for garnish, a good gruyere for melting and I like a good baguette which is how I learned. Also good stock is a secrete. If you want me to post the recipe I will. It is really simple and classic.

                1. alwayscooking Feb 14, 2009 06:31 AM

                  Homemade beef and veal stocks are essential as is the slow carmelization of the onions IMHO.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: alwayscooking
                    itryalot Feb 14, 2009 07:23 AM

                    Irregardless of the recipe, I am going to start roasting the bones and meat for beef stock.

                    1. re: alwayscooking
                      zamorski Feb 14, 2009 08:46 AM

                      Agree that the keys are good brown stock [homemade generally] and fully caramelized onions. I try to get some nice knuckle bones for body and some meat for depth of flavour (oxtails, short ribs, etc). I smear the bones and meat with tomato paste before roasting for a bit more flavour and much better colour.

                      Onions should be a nice, even mahogany brown after being caramelized. Takes about 45 minutes or more in my hands.

                      For the soup, the main flavours should be the onions and the stock. I do use a bit of flour for body and some white wine and a little fresh thyme in the soup base. I add a wee bit of cognac just before serving. If the result is a little too sweet, I add a little sherry vinegar to round it out. Don't be shy with the salt.

                      For finish, top with a toasted round of baguette and some reserve Gruyere cheese before baking.

                      Result is consistently excellent--results in rave reviews from people who know good food.


                    2. l
                      Lenox637 Feb 14, 2009 03:02 AM

                      I caramelize the onions in butter then i add white wine and cognac, cook it down a little and then i add beef stock and season to taste. I use a combination of good gruyere and a good mozz for that stretchy cheese that I like. It is a bit of a bastardized recipe from Julia Child.

                      1. paulj Feb 13, 2009 06:30 PM

                        This may be one of those dishes where opinions outside of France are stronger than those inside.

                        My impression is that most recipes call for cooking the onions till they are well caramelized, and then adding beef stock, and serving it with toast and melt cheese topping.

                        In Larousse Gastronimic (1960s edition) 'soupe a l'oignon' does not allow the onion to colour, and uses a white consumme or water. It is then served over bread dried in the oven.

                        'soupe a l'oignon gratinee' pours the above soup over alternating layers of bread and grated cheese, and then browns it in the oven.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: paulj
                          itryalot Feb 14, 2009 07:21 AM

                          Very good info so far.
                          Paul - That might be why then Balthazar's recipe uses chicken stock?
                          I have heard about adding wine or sherry or port.

                          In the Larousse book, what does it do with the onion then? This sounds more authentic.

                          As all things, I think modern day has added all the cheese bits.

                          1. re: paulj
                            paulj Feb 14, 2009 02:21 PM

                            In the tri-lingual owners manual that came with my Fagor (Spanish) pressure cooker, the English recipe for French Onion soup calls for beef stock. The French 'Soupe a l'oignon gatinee' calls for '1 litre d'eau' and 1/2 verne de vin blanc sec' - water and dry white wine.

                          2. steamer Feb 13, 2009 06:25 PM

                            Here's a simple and no doubt authentic one from Je sais cuisiner, by Ginette Mathiot--a classic French cook book

                            1.5 l bouillon of your choice
                            250 grams sliced onions
                            60g butter
                            80 grams flour
                            salt and pepper
                            Cook the onions in hot butter constantly stirring until they take on a nice golden color, sprinkle in flour, let them brown, sprinkle in the bouillion, add salt and pepper, and cook for about 10 minutes.

                            That's all.

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