French Onion Soup, known as Soupe à l'oignon in native French, is essentially a beef and onion based broth or a beef stock based soup. In its traditional form, it is served with croutons and toppings. Cheese is always added on top before serving. While the dish is regarded ancient and has been around for many years, its popularity had been hit for a while. Once again, during the 1960s, the dish gained popularity in the US. This was mainly because of an increased popularity for French cooking and cuisine.
The soup has a rich and sharp flavor which is mainly due to the amalgamation of the caramelized onions which lend a sweet taste to the dish whereas the sharpness is lent by the cheese. The beef stock has a pleasant taste which further adds to the overall flavor of the soup. Amongst all the French soups, this one is the most simple and uncomplicated to prepare.
Both vegetarian and meat versions of the soup are popular and relished in most parts of the world.
Origin of the French Onion Soup Recipe
It is known for a fact that onion soups have been popular since the Roman times, at least. Throughout history, the preparation was seen as mainly a preparation for people who were not rich as onions were available in abundance. They were also easy and cost effective to grow and harvest.
The origin of the modern day French Onion Soup can be traced back to 18th century France where it was made from onions, which were caramalized, and beef broth. The crouton on top of the soup is a reminiscent of ancient soups. The soup was, and still is, often finished when it is placed under broiler in a ramekin. When prepared in its traditional form, the soup is placed with croutons and melted gruyère is added on top.
One of the most commonly accepted theories about the onion of the soup takes it back to the canuts, laborers who were the backbone of Lyons' famous silk industry, working up to 18 hours a day weaving and screening the silk which was loved by the royals of France. With their limited means, the canuts used everything they could find to make inexpensive dishes which would sustain them during the long and tiring working hours.
Over time, the bourgeois classes adapted the French Onion Soup to their tastes and the modern version of the popular preparation is considered to be quite different from the traditional, rustic version.
Ingredients of Soupe à l'oignon
The traditional and most widely followed recipe for French Onion Soup calls for the use of onions, beef, beef stock, butter, flour, salt, pepper, Gruyere cheese, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, brandy and French bread. Since the soup first came to light, it is prepared mostly using these ingredients. However, there are versions of the soup which call for the use of slightly different ingredients, mainly different meat. Also, the vegetarian variant has no meat at all.
Preparation of the French Onion Soup Recipe
The traditional preparation method for the soup is cooking and the preparation time is about 60 minutes. The soup is prepared in a Dutch oven. The onions, which are the most important ingredient, are prepared first and all the other ingredients are mixed together with the onion. Once cooked, the soup is ready to be served. French bread is cut into pieces, toasted and sprinkled with olive oil separately.
Serving and Eating Soupe à l'oignon
French Onion Soup is served hot and right before it is to be served, the soup is ladled into individual bowls, topped with a thick handful of Gruyere cheese, a piece of toasted bread and Parmesan cheese is sprinkled all over the preparation. Being a heavy preparation, the soup is considered a full meal in itself. It can, however, also be served in small quantities as a starter or a part of the main lunch or dinner meal.
Popular French Onion Soup Recipe Variations
There are basically 3 major variants of the soup:
The French Onion Soup is prepared in the traditional way, mixed in a blender and served smooth with all the ingredients minced together.
Instead of beef or pork stock, vegetable stock is used to make the vegetarian version.
Chicken stock takes the place of beef stock to make the soup with chicken. The resultant preparation is lighter in color than the traditional beef soup.
French Onion Soup Recipe: Nutrition Facts
One serving of a traditionally prepared French Onion Soup generally has about 200 calories. Thanks to the ingredients used and the preparation method, the soup is considered a food which is high in calorie and fat content, mainly due to the excessive use of cheese. This makes the preparation and unsuitable one for people who are obese and/or suffer from health troubles like heart disease, hypertension and high cholesterol levels. In addition, conscious eaters prefer to stay away from the soup because of the rich ingredients used.
French Onion Soup can, however, be made healthier and more suitable for consumption for everyone by using low-fat cheese and lean meat instead of the traditionally used richer versions.