Julia Child’s French Onion Soup

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I wish I was exaggerating, but it hasn’t stopped raining in over three weeks. We did get a short break this weekend – a few hours of pure, blue sky – but the winds shifted and the afternoon rains returned. My car is filthy, the grass is overgrown, and the excitement over my lush herb garden does not make up for the fact that it’s been so dreary and humid. A few weeks back, I tried invoking Murphy (of the law fame) by making a pot of French Onion soup thinking that if I made soup to comfort us, the rain would magically disappear. That did not work out too well! On the bright side, Julia Child’s recipe was completely worth making, despite its lack of weather altering powers.

The soup’s soul might be the onions and beef stock, but the depth comes from layering dry vermouth (my go-to substitute for dry white wines) and a bit of cognac in the end. I took just one liberty from Mrs. Child’s recipe as published in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and added a fat pinch of herbes de Provence to the onions after they turned golden brown. I did not have any Gruyére or Emmental cheese on hand, so I melted mozzarella on top of toast made of the very last bit of a homemade bread loaf I stashed in the freezer. The mild mozzarella may have not created the nutty contrast associated with the more traditional cheese additions, but I liked that I could really taste the soup.

Soupe à L’Oignon
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking; scaled for three main course servings

The Onions

  • 3 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

Melt the butter and the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and coat them in the fats.  Cover the pot and lower the heat.  Let the onions seat for fifteen to twenty minutes.

After this initial cooking period has elapsed, the onions will be wilted but soft with no color.  Turn the heat back to medium, add the salt and sugar, and stir until the onions caramelize.  This part of the process is the most laborious at 30+ minutes.  If bits of onion burn a little, don’t worry about it too much.

In this time pocket, begin preparing the broth to be added to the onions.

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Almost there!

The Broth

  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • 1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
  • 1.5 tablespoon Cognac

Combine the liquids and bring them up to a boil.  When the onions are golden, stir in the flour and herbs de Provence and cook for at least two minutes in order to eliminate any raw flour taste.  Carefully add in the stock mixture, stirring to dissolve the flour.  Adjust the seasonings and let the soup simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.  When ready to serve, stir in the Cognac and adjust the seasonings to taste, keeping in mind the saltiness of the cheese to be melted on top.

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The Lagniappe

  • Rounds of crusty bread, pre-toasted
  • Grated Emmental, Gruyére, or mozzarella cheese for melting

Preheat the broiler.  Ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls, arranged in a baking sheet.  I like using a silicon mat to prevent the bowls from sliding.  Pour in the soup and nestle a slice of bread on top.  Cover generously with cheese and bake until the cheese melts browns slightly, at least five minutes.  Carefully remove the pan from the oven – the bowls will be hot.

As the summer progresses, I’ll be experimenting with gazpacho and vichyssoise because sometimes the rain brings out the worst of the tropical temperatures.  Got any favorite chilled soups for the summer?  Let me know in the comments section!

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Author:Adriana

Adriana is a financial analyst by day, avid home cook in the evenings, and food blogger and runner in the strange hours between those two. When not in the kitchen concocting meals and stories to pass around, she is out looking for the next great bite (or the ingredients to make it at home), checking what's new at the market, or planning a trip around great food and wine.

13 Responses to “Julia Child’s French Onion Soup”

  1. Kathy
    June 14, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    Oh yum! One of my favorite soups! Yours looks absolutely fabulous!

  2. yummychunklet
    June 14, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    This looks amazing! With the cooler weather in Chicago for a bit, I’m going to have to crack open my copy of Mastering to make this! Great post!

  3. Vicki @ WITK
    June 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    I always loved french onion soup when I was little, all that cheese! I haven’t had it in many many years. Yours looks very tasty, love the flavors you used!

  4. Tiffany
    June 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    A hearty classic!

  5. Liz
    June 14, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    I adore this recipe…perfect for a rainy day 🙂

  6. Chris and Amy
    June 15, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Love, love, love French Onion Soup, and if it’s Julia Child’s recipe, how can you go wrong?

  7. Kate from Scratch
    June 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    This looks so deeply delicious. I too love french onion soup. Can’t get enough of the stuff….I love this soup. You mentioned gazpacho. I recently spent a few days researching gazpacho…I highly recommend it. We did agazpacho sauce, which was amazing and everyone loved it. I’d like to try the soup method eventually…but I think my kids might run away screaming at the idea of cold soup. What do they know. hmf.

  8. Adriana
    June 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Kate – I've made gazpacho before for one of our "Souper Bowl" Sundays, using this recipe from Emeril Lagasse's potluck book.  Funny you should mention your kids.  My husband first tried it when he was little, and he's been hooked since.   

  9. Trix
    June 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    Happily, it has finally gotten dreary and cooler where I am, so this looks like just the thing! Love Julia Child, just started reading My Life in France. (Shameful that it took me so long!)

  10. Elaine
    June 17, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    I have GOT to make Julia’s French Onion Soup, Adriana. It looks so delicious! It is my very favorite soup and I always order it when we eat out, but I have never made it.

  11. Oana
    June 30, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Don’t even talk to me about rain, it’s like winter here :). I love Julia Child and this soup looks so lovely. Love the broth ingredients.

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