The “Thrifty Soup” of Louis XV of France

Onion is the sacred plant of ancient Egyptians, it is one of the most popular ingredients of Hungarian cuisine and also – last but not least – a precious basis of French culinary art. Soup prepared from onion is known by the British, the German and the Spanish gastronomy but the moment we hear the expression “onion soup”, its French version comes to our mind.

Royal Tastes

According to historic records, the inhabitants of the Frank Empire gladly consumed various boiled onions mixed with water and oil. The French onion soup we know today, the basis of which is the caramelised onion, most probably dates back to the 17th century. Legend has it that the dish has a lot to do with Louis XV himself who at his arrival to a hunting lodge found only a small amount of butter, a few onions and some dry bread in the dispensary. His chef tried to prepare something grandiose for his king from these ingredients and that is how French onion soup was born.

Real Life

Actually, this soup used to be one of the filling dishes of French country cuisine, the sweetly ripe onions from warmer regions eaten together with delicious French cheeses and bread have soon became popular in the neighbouring countries, too. The recipe was published as early as 1803 in the American cookbook “The Thrifty Housewife”. It has become an iconic dish of Parisian style of living. The legendary food even occurs in the world famous novel of Erich Maria Remarque, Arch of Triumph, published in 1945: “(...) some youngsters on the balcony spooned leek soup”.

Recipe of the Authentic French Onion Soup

Authentic onion soup is cooked using either broth or bouillon. To prepare the broth, 1 kilogram of vegetables (carrot, celery, onion, garlic, mushroom, leek, fennels, tomato cut into half, parsley and bay leaf) are cut into equal pieces and braised on butter and olive oil. Add 1 decilitre of dry white wine, boil it down and then once again add enough water to cover it 4-5 cm high. Bring it to boil and simmer, in the meantime remove the foam from the top and season it with star anise, a few pieces of roughly grinded black pepper, clove and cinnamon wrapped in a tulle bag which has to be removed in shortly before the broth is clarified.

Cut 1 kg of onions into thin half-rings. Melt 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 40 grams of butter and add the onion. Season it with salt and add 2-3 tablespoons of white wine. Boil it down till the sauce is thick and then once again add a few tablespoons of wine; continue the thickening and thinning process till the onions start to caramelise. Warm 1 litre of broth and pour on the onion basis and then season it with thyme, ground pepper, bay leaf and ground nutmeg. Cover it and cook for 45-50 minutes on low heat, in the meantime add 60-70 mm of port wine.  Grate approximately 200 grams of mildly ripe Gruyere cheese (parmesan or pecorino also would do). Toast 4 slices of high quality bread, pour the soup into a casserole and cover it with the toasts. Sprinkle it with the cheese and bake the dish for ten minutes in an oven preheated to 220 °C but reduced to 180 °C.