Ten minutes into making dinner in my apartment, I was fighting to hold back tears. Admittedly, these were mostly a result of the small mountain of onions I had just chopped. However, part of me was reminiscing about the last time I had this meal. On a chilly May afternoon, I was enjoying the sweet aroma of French onion soup inside a café in Paris.
After a whirlwind tour of Europe over spring break, my friends and I parted ways and I found myself alone in Paris waiting for my train to take me to my French home in Montpellier. With four hours to kill, I decided to wander around the Gare de Lyon for somewhere to pass the time and possibly get something to eat, having missed breakfast that morning. After passing several pricey brasseries, I finally settled on a nice little café nestled in one of the many side streets surrounding the train station.
Inside away from the cool spring air, I settled in with a book and ordered a cup of soupe à l’oignon. The wooden benches and natural lighting made the restaurant feel especially cozy. Sitting across from the windows looking out to the street, I occasionally glanced up from my book to admire the Parisians starting to come out for their lunch hour.
When the waitress, clad in all black, delivered my soup to the table, the cheese atop of the toasted bread was still bubbling. Before even lifting a spoonful of the warm soup to my lips, I could smell the sweet, caramelized onions, dry wine, and rich broth carried with the steam rising from my bowl. With the first taste — serendipity.
Although French onion soup may be an iconic French dish in the minds of many Americans, we can actually thank the American chef Julia Child for its popularity. Through her show and cookbooks, Julia brought this dish into the kitchens of Americans everywhere.
Food often has a way of transporting us to a special place or special moment. Although French Onion soup may only be an American creation of French elegance, I will always have the memory of sitting in a Parisian café eating my French Onion Soup on that cold May afternoon.
French Onion Soup (soupe à l’oignon)
The Way to Cook, by Julia Child. Recipe for French Onion Soup
1/2 stick butter
1 tbsp olive oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2-1/2 pounds)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp flour
8 cups homemade beef stock, or good quality store bought stock
1/4 cup Cognac, or other good brandy
1 cup dry white wine
8 (1/2-inch) thick slices of French bread, toasted
3/4 pound coarsely grated Gruyere
Heat a heavy saucepan over moderate heat with the butter and oil. When the butter has melted, stir in the onions, cover, and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, increase the heat to medium high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool a moment, then whisk in 2 cups of hot stock. When well blended, bring to the simmer, adding the rest of the stock, Cognac, and wine. Cover loosely, and simmer very slowly 1 1/2 hours, adding a little water if the liquid reduces too much. Taste for seasoning
Divide the soup among 4 ovenproof bowls. Arrange toast on top of soup and sprinkle generously with grated cheese. Place bowls on a cookie sheet and place under a preheated broiler until cheese melts and forms a crust over the tops of the bowls. Serve immediately.
Michelle Hum is a self-proclaimed Francophile and foodie. Michelle has been fortunate enough to visit countries on three continents and live in France during a semester abroad. In order to stay connected with many of the cultures she experienced, food has become very important to Michelle. A student at the University of Minnesota pursuing double majors in Psychology and Advertising and a minor in French, Michelle advises the digital aspects for A Woman’s Paris. Outside of school, you can find her perfecting her signature white chocolate fruit tarts and other treats.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, French Women Chefs: Les Mères Lyonnaise, by French writer Laurence Haxaire who tells the story of theformer house cooks for affluent families in Lyon who set up their own businesses after the French revolution in the 19th century. And later, when their reputation reached beyond the edge of Lyon, the most famous of them even welcomed General de Gaulle as VIP at their table.
Julia Child: French Cooking for North Americans, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who writes about the challenge of making a simple birthday cake in Paris, from finding the familiar whipping cream, measuring cups and spoons, to the search for birthday candles to top the cake! Recipe for Yogurt Cake by Sophie Dudemaine, cookbook author and French TV star, from her cookbook titled, Les Cakes de Sophie.
Escargot. Don’t judge a snail by its shell, by Alyssa Glawe who shares this first time, life-changing culinary experience at Paris’ oldest restaurant, La Petite Chaise, where she was overwhelmed by the taste of butter, garlic, and herbs. Recipe included for Escargot with Garlic Butter, courtesy of LifestyleFood.com.
Pain Perdu: Childhood love of French custard and bread, by Barbara Redmond who shares her discovery of pain perdu (French toast), from the boulangerie pâtisserie Calixte in Î’le St. Louis, Paris. French toast: a favorite treat eaten in the gardens of Notre Dame in an air of whimsy and childhood delight. Recipe included for “original French toast,” made by Christophe Raoux of the L’École de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse for Mark Schatzker, ABC News explore.
Text copyright ©2011 Michelle Hum. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.