Brrrr! The weather outside is frightful — one of those cold, rainy days that makes you want some good ol’ comfort food to warm your soul. On days like this, there’s nothing better than a steaming hot crock of soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup) to beat back the cold. With its flavorful broth, caramelized onions, crispy bread, and yummy gruyère cheese browned on top, soupe à l’oignon is the quintessential French comfort soup.
Lolo's French Onion Soup
Onion soup has been been a French staple for so long that no one really knows who made it first. Many credit King Louis XV for the recipe, claiming he returned to his lodge at Versailles after a long day of deer hunting to find the cupboards bare — except for onions, butter, and, of course, Champagne. According to this version, his cook threw everything into a pot and stirred as the wonderful smell of caramelized onions spread through the lodge, tantalizing everyone’s taste buds!
Others say Stanislas Leszczynski, the Duke of Lorraine and father of Queen Marie, Louis XV’s wife, brought the tasty dish to Versailles. The Duke tried a soup prepared by Nicolas Appert (inventor of canning) at La Pomme d’Or in Châlons-en-Champagne while on his way to visit his daughter and the King. He found the soup so tasty that he asked to see how it was made. Dressed only in his bathrobe and slippers, he watched with tears streaming down his face as Appert sliced dozens of onions for the soup. Leszcynski wrote down everything the chef did so that he could make it for the Royal couple and their court once he arrived at Versailles. Appert dedicated his recipe to Lesczynski in his 1831 cookbook, calling it onion soup à la Stanislas.
Whether it was the Duke or the King who introduced the iconic soup at Versailles has remained a mystery, but my money's on the Duke. Versailles wasn't where onion soup found fame, however. The restaurants that surrounded Les Halles in Paris, like Au Pied de Cochon, Poule au Pot, and Chez Baratte are responsible for onion soup becoming not only a brasserie classic, but also a trusted hangover remedy across France.
Basic onion soup was seen as a food for the poor — onions were plentiful and easy to grow, therefore, onion soup was a common meal for generations of French families. By adding grated cheese to the basic version and placing the bowls under the broiler, local restaurateurs created a dish that brought together the poor and the wealthy. The men and women who worked at the giant food market would eat the Gratinée des Halles at dawn before beginning a hard day of work, and the finely dressed men and women leaving the theater or cabaret would stop by and have a bowl to avoid a hangover. Everyone soon realized onion soup was also a great way to mask the smell of alcohol, and the name "soup of the drunkards" quickly became associated with the soup.
French onion soup also became a tradition at French weddings to prevent a hangover after a long night of drinking and dancing. To this day, friends and family of the bride and groom continue to track down the happy couple on their wedding night to eat onion soup from a special tureen.
Soupe à l'oignon is really a home cook’s dish. So put on an apron and channel your inner Julia Child — or Jacques Pépin. Even when sober, French onion soup is the perfect remedy for chilly winter days and nights!
Lolo's Soupe à l’Oignon ( French Onion Soup)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup unsalted butter
5 tablespoons olive oil
5 to 6 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup dry sherry
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts beef broth
1 baguette sliced
12 slices Swiss cheese or 1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
3 to 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper; cook and stir until softened, about 10-12 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1-2 minutes longer.
2. Sprinkle flour over onions, and stir to coat. Add sherry. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced by about half.
3. Add beef broth; return to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 45-55 minutes, to allow flavors to combine.
4. Preheat oven to broil
5. Place baguette slices onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Place into oven and broil until golden brown on both sides, about 1-2 minutes per side; set aside.
6. Divide soup into ramekins or ovenproof bowls. Place onto a baking sheet. Top with baguette slices to cover the surface of the soup completely. Add Swiss or Gruyère cheese. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Place into oven and broil until golden brown and cheeses have melted; about 2 minutes.
7. Serve immediately.
When this self-described Francophile is not reading or writing about all things French, she's dreaming up charming new ways to showcase Lolo French Antiques et More or traveling to France with Lolo to buy delightful treasures for their store. Mimi, Lolo, and their new French Bulldog, Duke, live in Birmingham, AL.