Soupe à l’oignon Gratinée…
…just a fancy way to say French Onion Soup.
Anybody who knows me knows I don’t put a great deal of stock in culinary schools. I’ve earned the right to think that way. I graduated from arguably one of the finest in the world. I’ve also had students from my alma mater and dozens of other culinary programs from, yes, around the world. It’s not that I disagree with the programs as much as I do the ideology that students are being trained to be chefs. I’ve yet to see a chef, diploma in hand, on graduation day from any program.
What I will say for culinary schools, in my own personal experience, is that they expose you to so many things that pertain to real kitchens, but it’s up to the student to put the time in to learn and develop these things in the real world.
As an example, when I graduated culinary school, I made my stocks the way I learned in school, the classic preparation of one of the fonds de cuisine. As I’ve developed my own style over the years, I’ve adapted my stocks to reflect what I feel enhances my food. I use much less herbs and mirepoix in my stocks now, sometimes none at all. I want my stocks to be supremely neutral and concentrated, so I leave them longer on the heat to extract and reduce as much as possible. What I’ve been able to do with my stocks comes from understanding the classical method of preparation.
While I’ve adapted many of the stocks I make to fit my own tastes, there are times when classical methods are the only way to create a particular result. A beautifully simple French onion soup is one of those times when I make my white veal stock as I did in culinary school, and I’m glad I was paying attention.
French Onion soup is one of those dishes that can amaze you with rich robust flavor from a few simple, but unexciting ingredients. To do this soup well, you need to master one of the most basic cooking techniques, caramelization. Caramelization is the act of cooking sugar (or sucrose) to a brown color, enhancing sweetness and giving your ingredient a slight roasted/nutty flavor. This process is what gives the soup it’s rich color and depth of flavor. French onion soup does take some patience but the results are worth it.
When making French onion, it’s important, as I mentioned above, to use a well made veal stock. You can find a good recipe here or email me and I will give you mine. You may substitute chicken or beef, as long as they are unsalted.
French Onion Soup
2 qts. White veal stock
3# yellow onion, julienned
1 ½ cups sherry
2 oz. corn oil
2Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
1. In a heavy bottomed Stock Pot, heat the corn oil over high heat until you begin to see wisps of smoke.
2. Carefully place the onions in the pot and reduce the heat to medium high.
3. From here, you’re going to caramelize your onions rather slowly.
4. To do this properly, allow the onions to rest about a minute on the flame undisturbed.
5. Stir the onions, bringing the onions from the bottom to the top, allowing new onions to set on the bottom of the pot. It will take some time doing this to get the onions caramelized enough to give the soup a deep onion flavor.
6. In the following photo, this is roughly how the onions should progress over med-medium high heat.
7. When the onions have reached a dark stage, roughly the color of milk chocolate, deglaze with the sherry.
8. Reduce the sherry by half and add the veal stock.
9. Add the thyme and simmer 45-60 minutes.
10. Remove from heat, season with salt and white pepper (this is one of the few places white pepper actually enhances a dish).
To plate (optional)
1 large toast point made from a baguette
1 thick slice gruyere