Sunday, November 20, 2005

Soupe à l’oignon gratinée

Comfort food at its soulful best, few things are as gratifying to make and eat as onion soup. Ever since acquiring the appropriate pot-bellied narrow-mouthed serving vessels (lion's head motif charming, if optional), I'm convinced it's all about proportion. What Phi is to Greek architecture, the pleasing balance of onions-to-broth-to-croutons-to-cheese is to French onion soup. And without the perfectly proportioned bowl, this golden ratio is virtually impossible to achieve.

The method I've been enamoured with as of late comes from Thomas Keller's powerful paen to bistro cookery, Bouchon, in which the simple is made sublime thanks to relentless refinement of technique. The most critical thing is the cooking of the onions. Caramelising merely the cut surfaces of the julienne won't do; to tease forth depth of colouring and nuanced sweetness - the result of natural sugars being gradually broken down and releasing their complex flavour compounds - the entire julienne right to its very core needs to be evenly caramelized. To this end, only very slow heat (about 5 hours in an enamelled cast iron pot over the merest flame and a diffuser) will do. After this, good beef broth, slowly crisped croutons, and a cap of aged Comté, molten beneath its gratineed crust, ensure good eating.


Blogger santos. said...

i'm inclined to believe that the charming lion's heads should be mandatory....5 hours? do the onions stay intact, or just intact until touched by spoon or tongue?

6:06 pm, November 20, 2005  
Blogger boo_licious said...

Perfect for the rainy nights we seem to be getting nowadays.

6:30 pm, November 20, 2005  
Blogger Reid said...

Hi J,

I really don't like onion soup, but I have to say that your description of the soup as well as the gorgeous picture almost make me forget that.

9:40 pm, November 20, 2005  
Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

Mmmmmmmm... that has to be one of my own favorite comfort food items. Especially with lots and lots of cheese. Gorgeous as usual.

9:53 pm, November 20, 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

My limited mind cannot fathom 5 hours for onion soup...J, you're incredible :)

11:40 pm, November 20, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must have been reading my mind - I was planning to make onion soup tonight! I didn't know about Keller's 5-hour method, but I'm suitably intrigued - can you really tell the difference from, say, two-hour onions? I'm still looking for perfect soup crocks like yours though, so it won't be quite so elegant to eat...

1:24 am, November 21, 2005  
Blogger deborah said...

yes please! onion; they are that magical vege - what with the tang and then the sweet when heat is applied. i like that the pastry sits ontop about to be cracked below for some liquid gold.

3:29 am, November 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, it's cold and rainy here right now; I could really use a bowl. Yummmmmmm.

7:31 am, November 21, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

5 hours!?!?! I read somewhere that you can tell a good cookbook from a bad one by looking how long they tell it takes for onions to soften. A cookbook saying fry onions for 5 minutes, until soft, is no good obviously. I knew softening and caramelising onions takes long, but 5 hours was never in my mind.. Impressive.
Lovely picture. And just like one of the commentors above, I've been secretly envying your impressive collection of kitchen cutlery and serving dishes:)

7:48 pm, November 21, 2005  
Blogger slurp! said...

5 hours!!! I guess you do them in bulk. i believe unused portion can be kept in fridge for use quickly later. but still it's an incredible feat (To me).

1:02 am, November 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love to taste this! Nice photo!


8:18 am, November 22, 2005  
Blogger Michelle said...

J -
Absolutely beautiful descriptions...I got pulled right in, and then drooled all over my computer by the end of the post. And I love those cute little perfectly proportioned pots!

8:25 am, November 22, 2005  
Blogger e d b m said...

J, how much does it cost to fed ex that exact dish over to the US from Singapore haha. i'm ordering Bouchon very soon, and i'm gonna try this out first. Nice job.

4:06 pm, November 22, 2005  
Blogger Francis Ho said...

I'm drolling over a computer screen!
What a gorgeous site to chance upon!

2:58 pm, November 23, 2005  
Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

As usual, I don't know which I love more - your fabulous descriptions or your stunning photos.

Thanks for sharing.

8:55 pm, November 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joycelyn - it's been incredibly cold here in the UK and I need this gorgeous yet comfort soup to warm me up!(preferably with the eclairs :)) - it looks absolutely scrumptious, I must confess I haven't made anything from Bouchon yet, you've put me to shame again...

9:37 am, November 24, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

I simply adore those pots - absolutely perfect vessels for a well-made soup! I think you're bang on with your analysis, the secret to a good French Onion soup truly is in its proportions. When that balanced is achieved, it is truly sublime. I've got a recipe from an old cookbook that is my standby - I must compare it to the Bouchon version!

1:44 am, November 25, 2005  
Blogger FooDcrazEE said...

wow! classique soup absolutely delish! I have done mine and i served them in a sour dough bread

7:31 pm, November 25, 2005  
Blogger Claudia said...


Now I know why the onion soups I make once in a while never have the taste I experienced in French bistros around the world. It takes more than love to make a good onion soup. At least you tell it without hurting my feelings. I don't have the right pan and guess I may not try to make it at home ever again.



8:19 pm, November 23, 2008  

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