Totally authentic, as long as you ignore what many French people say about the base, that is. The majority of French (and other) chefs will gasp a collective “Mon Dieu” and insist on “de bouillon de bœuf”. Beef stock to you and me. What do they know? I know best. I used chicken stock and my reasoning is pretty sound.
Firstly, French onion soup is a peasant dish. Given their oppressed past (sadly, peasants are always oppressed), in pre-revolution times, there really could not have been many of them making beef stock. Cattle were hard enough to come by and I doubt they got slaughtered in enough numbers to make a “French classic” possible.
Secondly, those agrarians all had chickens. Lots of chickens. In fact, today, they have too many chickens. At big international games, they love to sneak them into rugby grounds and release them onto the pitch. The rooster has been an unofficial symbol of France since Roman times. The cow doesn’t get a hoof in.
So, I’m pretty sure that the French peasants made their soup using chicken stock. It stands to reason. So, beef fans, popular history and indisputable logic are on my side. My French friend (one of my few French friends) Stéphane Gerbart does not agree. He is a water supporter and not in favour of the chicken stock.
Side note on chicken stock: If you are one of those people who believe that stock is made by putting a cube in a bowl and adding boiling water, read Stéphane’s post above and follow his method. You are wasting your time here.
- 4 large onions
- 1 litre of real, home made, chicken stock
- A couple of slices of a nice sourdough bread
- A generous handful of grated Gruyere cheese
- Half a tablespoon of flour
- 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
- Salt and pepper to season
- A sprinkle of parsley to get some green into the photo
- A couple of glasses of Lillet to make the onion stirring bearable.
You could also do with a good book. The onion sweating takes an age. First, slice the onions evenly. Some promote very fine slicing and others swear medium. I cut them roughly, in a peasant like fashion. That must be authentic.
Add a little oil to a very large frying pan and add the onions. Sweat them over a low heat for a long time. Here it is in pictures…
After about 15 minutes of this tedium, break out a French aperitif and pour it in (to yourself, not the onions).
Return to the stirring and go easy on the drink. After another 15 minutes, the drink will be nearly gone and the onions will be just beginning to change colour.
At this stage, your face will have changed colour too. What with the drink and slaving over a hot stove. After another 15 minutes or so, the onions will start to colour nicely.
Another 15 minutes or so and the onions will be a nice brown colour.
At this stage, add the flour and stir it until it combines with the onions and cooks a bit. allow another 5 to 10 minutes.
Next, add in some of the stock and stir.
I added just enough to wet the onions and allow the flour to be properly cooked. Add the remaining stock and simmer for 15 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, slice and toast some sourdough bread and grate the cheese.
Taste and season the soup.
Ladle it into warm bowls, place the sourdough on top, sprinkle on the cheese and place under the grill (broiler) until the cheese melts. Sprinkle with a little parsley and serve with more sourdough toast.
The soup has taken an hour and a half to prepare. It’s very much hands on. It’s well worth it. The chicken stock and onions give a big flavour hit. Next time, I should try it with beef stock, even if it’s less traditional. Or, because it’s more popular? Who knows, who cares? I might even try Stéphane’s water based soup. He might know best, given that he is French. Though, I will take a lot of convincing.