The tradition of French soups is a long and important one. Without French soups, the word “restaurant” would not exist; the word “restaurant” referred, in 18th Century France to a thick, concentrated and inexpensive broth, sold by “restaurers” in the street to cure exhaustion. In 1765, a shop was set up in Paris for “restaurers” to sell their produce, and va va voom… here we are today. So, if you are still reading, French Soups are actually the reason we call a restaurant a restaurant. I think it is a nice touch that the original purpose of a restaurant was to restore heath and hunger, not to allow gorging or excess.
The French make some of the finest soups in the world; the Italian soups are too thin and ostentatious; the British soups are too weighty; the Russian soups come close, but can be too fatty. We also need to thank the French for many of the soup recipes we enjoy today; any sea food bisque or onion broth is due to them. The French have also been significant in the quest to thicken soups, more on that later on. And therefore, whilst the French certainly didn’t invent the soup originally (soup has been a part of human life since 6000BC), they are very key to its success. Although soup has existed since 6000BC, the French have played a key role in its development and its continued popularity.
We will revisit the “Soup situation” in the recipe below, but for now a quick look at Garlic which I love (which is probably why I don’t have many friends). It is equally suited in a Gazpacho as it is helping to reduce risks of heart disease. China produces over 13 million tonnes of it a year and it is grown in every state of America apart from Alaska. Whilst it is important in French cuisine, French production of garlic is less than that of Myanmar and the Ukraine. It is used in almost every different cuisine. Typing garlic into Google reaps 134,000,000 results; more than you get if you type in Elizabeth 2nd. Therefore, it is an ingredient of huge importance and huge flavour, as we will see now.
This edition’s recipe is an old cracker of French onion soup. It went hugely out of favour for many year, probably due to there being too much of it around, but now it is back and stronger than ever. This is a “pimped” up version of the soup, and requires long patient cooking. However, wait the time, and the spoils of a rich, delicious and historically important (see above) soup will be yours. As we eat soup, we connect with most human beings ever, so “Vive la Soupe!” and let’s march on.
French onion soup:
Serves 4 as a starter/2 as a main:
Butter (plenty; it is a French recipe, after all!)
8 onions, (2 red, 2 white, 4 echalion shallots), peeled and finely chopped up.
4 Cloves of garlic, Crushed/Finely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme, chopped
1 tbsp flour
500ml Cider or White Wine
500ml Good quality chicken/beef stock
Dash of Calvados/Port/Brandy
8 slices of baguette
Grated cheese (ideally gruyere)
- First melt a good knob of butter (say 50grams) in a large pan. To this, add all the chopped onions and the garlic. Now keep on a low heat and leave with the lid on for 45 minutes. Stir very occasionally, just so the onions don’t catch. After 45 minutes, they will be delightfully brown and caramelised. At this stage, you can leave them for another 45 minutes if you have time, or alternatively you can move on!
- Now turn up the heat to medium and add the flour and thyme. Stir around so all the onions are coated in a bit of flour. Now pour in the alcohol and the stock and stir well. Leave with the lid on, for a further 30minutes-1hour on a low heat.
- Now taste the soup, and season accordingly. Salt will almost certainly be needed, pepper maybe not as much. Turn on the grill to its highest setting. Add the dash of the spirit you are using, and then decant the soup into heatproof bowls. Put the baguette slices on top, and cover with the cheese.
- Place under the grill until the cheese is bubbling and melted. Serve immediately.