Tag Archives: french cuisine

French Onion Soup – Soupe à l’oignon au gratiné

The very first recipe that I cooked for someone outside of my family was in my ninth grade French class. For a project that entailed opening a french bistro (for one day), we had to come up with a french recipe, cook it and serve it. My group of four people made the following:

Soupe à l’oignon au gratiné

That phrase has stuck in my head for nearly twenty five years now.

Soupe à l’oignon au gratiné

For a child of 15, the phrase rolled off the tongue with joy and ease. In my mind, the primary essences of the French language were seemingly all present. There is the gender distinction of the feminine Soupe. There are the common accents found upon the ‘a’ (à) and ‘e’ (gratiné). There is the abbreviated determiner (l’). And then, my favorite, the word oignon itself, which gave a bunch of college bound children from a blue collar neighborhood to use our newly discovered exaggerated French accents. If ever there were a surreal moment in my life, it would be the time when I sat in a classroom of 25 children, each of us nearly shouting the word “Unh-Yunh!! Unh-Yunh!!

Yes, in my opinion, there is no better phrase in the French language than
Soupe à l’oignon au gratiné.

Say it out loud. You’ll see what I mean.

  • 5 Yellow onions, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 cups canned beef consume
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2 oz. cognac
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 2 parsley sprigs
  • 6-8 slices from a day old baguette (or you can toast the slices as well)
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 6 slices Gruyere cheese

Place a dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat and allow to come to temperature. Add the butter. Once butter has melted add a layer of onions and sprinkle with a little salt. Repeat layering onions and salt until all onions are in the pot. Do not try stirring until onions have sweated down for 15 to 20 minutes. Lower the heat to medium/medium-low. Cook the onions for 50-55 more minutes, stirring the onions every five minutes or so. The onions should be a deep reddish brown.

Cover the onions with the white wine. Turn heat to high, allowing the wine to reduce reducing (this should take about 5 minutes). Add the beef consume, the chicken broth, apple cider, cognac and the herbs. Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. When the soup is considered done, remove the herbs.

To serve, place 1-2 slices of the baguette in an oven safe bowl and ladle the soup over top. Top with a slice or two of Gruyere. Place under a broiler long enough for the cheese to melt and brown.

Serves 4-6

The Pre-History of Restaurants

In writing about the French restaurants, I came to question just exactly where the idea of “restaurants” comes from. As per usual, I’ve discovered something that I have previously did not know.

The word itself provides a fair amount of clues…restaurant comes from the Old French term restaurateur, which meant someone who provides (i.e. sells) restaurer. Restauarer means “to restore”. In other words – a “restorative”.

If one were to look back in the history books for the word “restaurant”, the first appearance shows up in the 15th century as a recipe. In this recipe, a capon is rendered in a glass kettle along with gold or gems. This itself also help evolve into the idea that chicken soup can cures what ails.

Over the course of years, restaurants evolved from gold laden rendered chicken, into soups and broths which were sold to the public by specific people. Much like other food producers, restaurateurs had their own guild and were able to sell the broth, much like charcutiers sold sausages and rotisseurs sold fresh game.

It was this collection of different vendors and sellers of food that allowed restaurateurs to flourish. The French Revolution helped take down, not just a monarchy, but the economic system of guilds that sometimes prevented one food producer from selling products that were typically the “responsibility” of another. Additionally the bourgeoisie became a viable economic force as tradesmen and artisans started to travel to other areas of France to find new markets for their wares. These traveling businessmen looked for places to eat which offered a variety of foods in a comforting atmosphere that reflected their own station in life. These were variables that inns and taverns (the initial purveyors of food to travelers) could not meet on a regular basis.

Restaurants filled this void nicely, first by selling varieties of bouillon. Then, as the guikld system slowly dissolved away, they started offering other foodstuffs, such as soups, meats and pastries. This eventually (and quickly) evolved into businesses that resemble the restaurants we know of today.

Who would have thought that the creation of restaurants was so involved?

Technorati Tags: Restaurants, Food, Food+History

Is French Food All it’s cracked up to be?

I was perusing the New York Times, as I am wont to do, when I came across a television reviewers take on the new Alton Brown show. They wrote:

For too long, American food personalities — especially the men — have been playing outlaws and flaunting their Johnny Lunchbucket tastes, claiming that cheeseburgers, pork rinds and home fries show every bit as much culinary prowess as haute cuisine. Maybe. They’re certainly grease-rich, and sometimes they taste all right.

But that pose: the near-hysterical enthusiasm for diners, drive-throughs, burger joints, pizza parlors, sandwich shops. Haven’t we had enough? Doesn’t anyone want to say that, sure, a grilled cheese can hit the spot, and cherry pie is great, but French food is still harder to make, better balanced, more beautiful and more delicious?

These paragraphs brought forth a question I’ve been meaning to ask for quite some time:

Why is French cuisine thought to be the apex of food, at least in the Western World?

I’m not saying that the food is bad. Not at all. But for all of the fine points of French cuisine, I can point out similar foods in other cultures.

If I were to hazard a guess, it was the influence of Haute Cuisine and the influence that Auguste Escoffier had upon upscale restaurants. Escoffier is the primary reason why are meals are served in courses rather than all at once.

Then was the introduction of Nouvelle Cuisine, also by the French. But being revolutionary in the restuarant business is not the same thing as having the “best food”.

In fact, as with other national cuisines, it’s difficult to define what exactly is French cuisine. Is it the exacting recipes of Cuisine classique? Is it the seafood cusines of Northern France? Or is the the regional cuisines of the likes of Provence?

The answer, I know, is a little of all of the above. But many people seem to have this idealized version of French Cuisine that extends beyond the reality of it. So out of curiousity, I ask: Is French Food the pinnacle of food? And if you believe it to be, why?

Haute cuisine? More like boil in the bag

Maxime sent me a link to this article and wanted me to comment on it. From the article:

According to an investigation by the newspaper France Soir, the days when a Gallic chef could boast of 86 different ways to make an omelette are fast disappearing.

Instead they are turning to frozen vegetables, ready-made dishes and sauces delivered in cartons – some of them supplied discreetly by an arm of a British “pub grub” caterer.

Being both an American, an Anglophile as well as preferring Italian food over French, it’d be easy (and understandable) for me to point a finger and go “Ha-ha”. But really, if this article is true, then the only emotion I feel is sadness.

The one thing that you can say about the French is that they are very protective of their culture. What the above article shows is how futile their actions have been on some level.

France is a country where the suicide of a four-star chef made NATIONAL news. The tradition of cuisine is an immense source of pride. You can imagine the outrage that these restaurant techniques are causing.

To add to this insult, the article states “more than a dozen traditional techniques – including how to truss a chicken, open oysters and prepare artichoke hearts have been dropped from the national cookery qualification, the Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnel. Instead trainees are tested on their use and handling of processed, frozen, powdered or pre-prepared foods.”

Let’s be clear here. What these actions are showing is that the restaurant culture in France is moving from primarily focusing on craft to focusing on business. Because what the boil in the bags, and the focus on dealing with processed, frozen, powdered or pre-prepared foods bring to the table is cheaper product. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that money is more important than perfect food.

I hardly think that this sounds the death knell for Haute Cuisine. Any place that uses the mentioned techniques simply won’t be able to compete against those restaurants who use fresh products and better trained chefs, at least when it comes to taste and quality.

But it is a bit of a wake-up call to the culture of cuisine. Where these “boiled bag” places will be able to compete is in profits. To paraphrase a Hollywood cliche, there’s a reason why they call it the restaurant business.

Still, it’s sad when traditions fade away, as we sometimes lose more than we gain. Being an advocate of taste, it’s dissapointing to see less focus on true skill and more focus on providing a cheaper product.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Haute Cuisine, Restaurant Industry, French Traditions

Provençal Potatoes

Provençal Potatoes

So I talk about cucumbers and squash, and then I go and give you a recipe with potatoes? What’s up with that?

No worries, I’m simply passing along some recipes that use Olive oil, even if only tangentally.

This recipe I made last night for Tara, along with another one which will be part of the next post. It’s fairly straightforward if a bit on the average side. But hey, it’s a side dish, not a main course. It’s not supposed to get a lot of attention. Add more or less olive oil at the end to get the taste you wish.

The recipe is based off of one in Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating.

  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold Pototoes, whole
  • 1/4 cup virgin olive oil
  • Coarse Salt. Sea if you have it, although kosher slat will do in a …ahhh…pinch.
  • 2-4 sprigs of fresh Dill

Steam potatoes in their skins for approximately 35-40 minutes. Score the potatoes with a knife and either create a small bowl, or allow to stand only slightly peeled. Plate and dress with olive oil, and top with salt and dill. Voila!

Easy, no?

Serves 4-6