When my parents moved to Europe after I was married, my mother attended the Cordon Bleu school in Brussels. This was one of the many recipes on the course and the only one she ever graced us with. I wonder what ever happened to the rest...
Onion soup is the quintessential French comfort soup and another great remedy for a hangover. Cookbooks are fond of saying that onion soup was a favorite of locals stopping by the central Paris open markets after the theater or cabaret. As famous as the onion soup of Les Halles may have been, I have not been able to find a recipe purporting to be actually from this famous marketplace.
Interior of Les Halles, 1835, a painting by Max Berthelin.In this recipe beef consomme rather than beef broth is used. There has been a lot of argument going back and forth between American versions that use beef broth and french versions that use water. Supposedly, the french version tastes more "oniony" than ours; so be aware when ordering in France. I checked out Balthazar's (chicken stock) and Julia Child's (beef broth) cookbooks. Both recipes are almost identical to this one with the exception of the stock, so Vive La Difference!
If you live in Paris, you can find wonderful French onion soup at the Brasserie Balzar or at Au Pied de Cochon. Similarly in New York, I understand Artisanal and Balthazar serve a delicious one, although I have never had it...I have other fish to fry when I go there. Here at the lake we make my mother's Cordon Bleu recipe and frankly, it is the best I've ever had, particularly on a cold winter night. A tarte au citron or a pear or apple crisp for dessert is all you need to wrap up the meal.
Serves 2 - 3
2 large Spanish onions, total weight about 500 g (1 lb)
2 x 295 g cans condensed beef consommé
90 g (3 oz) butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons plain flour
125 ml (4 fl oz) dry white wine
1 bouquet garni
6 - 9 slices of baguette
60 - 90 g (2 - 3 oz) Emmental, Gruyère of Jarlsberg cheese
2 - 3 tablespoons port or Madeira (optional)
1. Halve the onions lengthways and finely slice them. Make the consommé up to 1.2 litres (2 pints) with water and heat to boiling. Keep hot.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onions, stir well and season with a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat to moderate and cook the onions until light golden brown in colour, 12 - 15 minutes. Stir frequently during this time and watch carefully towards the end of cooking, to prevent the onions catching on the bottom of the pan.
3. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 - 2 minutes, then add the wine and bring to the boil. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly to loosen the browned pieces of onion on the bottom of the pan. Add the hot consommé and the bouquet garni, stir well and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, preheat the grill and lightly toast the slices of baguette on both sides. Leave the grill on. Thinly slice the cheese and arrange it on top of the baguette. Remove the bouquet garni from the soup, stir in the port or Madeira (if using), then season the soup to taste.
To serve: Ladle the soup into individual flameproof bowls. Top each serving with 3 slices of baguette and put under the grill until the cheese melts and bubbles. Serve.
Don't skimp on the browning time for the onions - this is essential to give the soup a good colour and flavour
If you don't have Port or Madeira, you can use Sherry or Brandy.
If making the day before, cook the soup up to the end of step 3, then remove the bouquet garni. Cool over and refrigerate the soup. Before serving, reheat the soup until bubbling, preheat the grill and prepare the croûtons.
Source: Le Cordon Bleu