28 March 2014

Julia's French Onion Soup

... soup bowl as palette ...

I recently finished Noel Riley Fitch's biography of Julia Child ... and have pledged to make at least a few of the recipes that she is famous for popularizing. There's no better place to start than with her classic French Onion Soup recipe. She dedicated an entire spot on one of her early cooking programs to making this soup, using it as a basis for stressing excellent cutting skills, the importance of patience and slow cooking when seeking a good caramelization process, and the fun of entertaining.

Fitch's biography was such a good read. I left the book feeling that I got a real feel for Julia Child's personality and drive. Never was there a more energetic woman - full of fun, irreverence, work ethic, passion for cooking and food and living the good life with her beloved Paul. Reading the many remembrances by others of Julia's time with them, one senses that she truly was a big presence and the center of energy in any social group that she chose to enter. The biography is an even-handed handling of Julia's entire life and gives such a good feel for her early life and relationship with her parents that one sees just how she became the woman that the public came to know through her media activities. In fact, it is the one bio written about her life that she fully cooperated with, which is certainly a tribute to Ms. Fitch.

Julia Child loved life, was an active and vibrant athlete, a hard-working career woman, and a devoted wife with a penchant for entertaining.  I wish I was given a chance to meet her and share a glass of wine and a light meal ... oh, what an education it would be ! Alas, that can't be, but today, I am making French Onion Soup and plan to enjoy a nice glass of wine and toast Julia and all she has given the American cooking scene. What a woman! What a soup!

Julia's French Onion Soup is a dish to make when you're puttering in the kitchen at other things. The onions start as a mound in the pan, but are reduced with time, a low temperature, butter and a bit of sugar and salt to a soft mess of aromatic slippery bliss. Add white wine and good strong beef stock and let things simmer for a good while. Add a bit of cognac and let that work for a bit. And then make your dishes up for a slow bake in the oven and a final brown up under the broiler ... pour the wine and put a communal salad bowl on the table and you will have a blissful supper!

SB rarely comments on the smells coming from the kitchen ... he's a typical reticent Yankee curmudgeon. Today, he came in from wooding and stopped in his tracks, took a sniff and declared this soup a good one! And he was right. Thanks, Julia!

French Onion Soup
a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Vol. 1


1 ½ lbs. peeled and sliced yellow onions
1 tbsp. light olive oil or canola oil
3 tbsp. butter
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. flour
2 qt. good strong hot beef stock
½ c. dry white wine
3 tbsp. Cognac
Grated onion (about ¼ cup per two bowls of soup)
French or artisan bread toasts
Grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese for topping the soup

Making the Soup:

  1. Place a heavy bottomed Dutch oven on the stove top over low heat.
  2. Add the oil and butter and the mound of onions.
  3. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently to coat the onions with the fats, as they cook down.
  4. Bring the heat up to medium low and add the salt and sugar, stirring well.
  5. Cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping any ‘brownings’ off the bottom of the pan. 
  6. When the onions are soft, slippery and perfectly golden brown, add the flour and and stir well to loosen the onions from the bottom and sides of the pan. Cook for 3 minutes.
  7. Add the beef stock and the white wine, salt and black pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a soft bubble, then lower the heat to a simmer, partially cover the pan and let things softly simmer for 45 minutes or so. Skim some of the foam off as it cooks down a bit.
  8. Turn the heat off and let the pan remain covered until you are ready to make up the soup bowls.
  9. When you’re ready to serve the soup, reheat the soup after adding the Cognac.
  10. Toast some baguette rounds (sliced about ¾ inch thick) in a 375° F oven while the soup is being heated.
  11. Place a baguette round in the bottom of the soup bowl, ladle in the soup, grate in some fresh onion, when the baguette floats upward, top it with a generous sprinkle of grated cheese, place the bowls on a cookie sheet and slide the pan into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
  12. When the cheese is melted, turn the broiler on and brown things up (watch the soup carefully at this stage).
  13. Serve with a glass of good red wine and a crisp green salad …

... shared with Foodies Read 2014 ...


  1. I love it when I'm able to catch one of Julia's cooking shows. They're so educational and entertaining, not because of the producers or even the food: It's just because her energy you describe so well (as well as the sense of humor and irreverence) is so magnetic and endearing.

  2. P.S. I'm as big a soup fan as you!

  3. Mmmmm. I'm a big fan of onion soup and this one does look superb. Your description and SB's reaction paint a glorious picture. Xx


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