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Julia's Onion Soup

Julia's Onion Soup

As winter drags into the February doldrums in Maine and even though the latest snowstorm has once again turned our corner of the world into a soft and snowy wonderland we are deeply chilled by the cold blast it brought, and the deep-freeze nights with their diamond-hard stars in the inky black, and the squeak of boots on cold, dry snow. Thoughts naturally turn to long slow cooking, pots bubbling on the back of the stove, the house filling up with warm vapors and tantalizing aromas.

This blog is almost completely dedicated to the inventions and adaptations that evolve in my kitchen, but every once in a while I've got to go back to roots, to the old favorites that can't be improved by messing with them. Like Julia's onion soup, from my battered sixties-era copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.

Julia1cov150_2"The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew," Julia says at the start. Sounds like just the thing for our current mood. And did I mention that the stock to which she refers, if you don't have any waiting in the freezer and don't like the canned stuff, requires its own "long, slow simmering" before you even start the soup? Needless to say, this project kept us warmed and lifted our spirits for a couple of days before it even made it to the table.

One note: although it is one of the world's favorite comfort foods, and has been for generations, I've never been a huge fan of the gratinéed version of onion soup, in which the soup is covered with toasted bread, to which a large amount of gooey cheese is added and then baked into a crust. To me the soup in that preparation is pushed to the background, overwhelmed both by the taste of the cheese and the whole sensual event of crusty baked cheese, with softer bits and strings clinging to it, all attached to crusty French bread soaked with the soup -- though I assume that it was okay with Julia since she included a recipe for the preparation (Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée).  Don't get me wrong...I like the whole sensual's just that I like the onion soup, too, which is why I follow Julia's primary recommendation for onion soup garnishes: floating a few hard-toasted rounds of bread, topped with cheese all bubbly and crusty from the broiler, in the soup. You get some of the crunch and bubble and cheesey soup-soaked bread sensuality, but in better balance with the not inconsiderable pleasures of the "perfect brew" that comes from all that long, slow simmering.

Julia's Onion Soup

(Paraphrased from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child et al, Volume I)

Serves 6 - 8.

5 C yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1-1/2 lb)
3 T butter
1 T oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
3 T flour
2 qts boiling brown stock (recipe follows) or canned beef bouillion
1/2 C dry white wine or vermouth
salt, hot sauce to taste
1 French baguette, cut in 3/4" thick rounds
olive oil
1 clove garlic
3 oz Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in a heavy covered saucepan for 15 minutes. Add the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderate and cook 30 - 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned a deep golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Bring the stock or bouillion to a boil and blend into the onions. Add wine, season to taste, and simmer partially covered 30 - 40 minutes, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning. If not served immediately, return to a simmer before serving.

Bake the bread rounds on a baking sheet in a preheated 350º oven about 30 minutes, till hard and lightly browned, basting them with olive oil after 15 minutes, and then turning them and basting the other side. When baking is completed, rub each piece with a cut piece of the garlic. Spread one side of each piece with the grated cheese, dribble on a little olive oil and brown under the broiler. Add the hot bread rounds to the hot soup immediately before serving.

Brown Stock

(Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child et al, Volume I.)

Makes 2 - 3 quarts.

about 6 lb meat, scraps and bones, chopped to 2-3" pieces (veal, beef, poultry)
2 tsp salt
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut up
2 medium onions, peeled and cut up
2 medium celery stalks, cut up
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
6 parsley sprigs
2 unpeeled galic cloves
2 whole cloves
option: 2 washed leeks

Roast the meat, scraps and bones with the carrots and onions in a preheated 450º oven about 30 - 40 minutes, turning occasionally to insure uniform browning. Place the meat and bones in a kettle. Drain out the fat from the roasting pan and deglaze with water, scraping the bits and juices into the kettle.

Add the celery, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, garlic, cloves, optional leeks and water to cover. Simmer partially covered 4 - 5 hours, skimming and degreasing occasionally, and adding more water if necessary. Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and degrease before using.


1. I don't season stock when it's completed, since if the stock is later used in anything that requires reduction the seasoning can be too strong.

2. After the initial boiling and skimming I transfer the whole operation to a crock pot set on high, which reduces the amount of attention it needs. If you have an electric range or one of those fancy gas cooktops with a good "simmer" setting this isn't necessary, but on my gas range I have a hard time keeping the simmer from breaking into a boil without constant watching and adjustments.


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I also like Julia's recipe best.

BTW, I fixed an approximation of your pear and beet salad on Sunday and it was delicious. The only pears I could get were hard and not sweet so I poached them in sherry with some sugar, and I couldn't find golden beets so I settled for red. But it was delicious.

Aren't crockpots grand? I love mine - it's the only thing saving me from starvation after a long day at work when I come home to find some unctuous, hearty stew in it!

I have a secret confession. As a child, when I saw Julia Child on telly, I thought she was a nutty old granny with very poor enunciation. I used to make fun of her like the Swiss Chef on the Muppet Show. Terrible, isn't it? I'm so ashamed now that I'm all grown up. Although I still imitate the Swiss Chef sometimes when I am cooking ... *sheepish giggle*

I absolutely adore her French Onion soup! I've tried other recipes, but this is the one to which I inevitably return.

I am, however, firmly in the camp of the gratineed version!

Sometimes I like to substitute the dry white wine with asti spumante -gives it a nice little kick with a lovely salty-sweet flavor lingering on your tongue.

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