Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Soupe à l'Oignon - French Onion Soup. Ordering the Most Famous of all French Soups and the Difference Between Parisian and Lyonnais Onion Soups.
the French Menu
onion soup in the manner of Paris.
courtesy of jeffreyw
soup in the manner of Paris or Lyon?
Paris and Lyon claim the original recipes
for French onion soup and the arguments among the residents of the two towns can turn heated.That, notwithstanding thousands of years
before the first printed recipe the first hunter-gatherer in France to throw a
wild onion in the cooking pot owns the original French recipe.
The traditional differences between the
two onion soups was over the Parisian use of vegetable, chicken or beef stock,
or bouillon, and wine or Cognac, The Lyonnais
version used no stock and the alcohol was Madeira wine or Port. These traditional differences are now often ignored, and so ask your server or maitre’d about the soup on your menu.
You should expect French servers to be knowledgeable.
Serving, in France, is a profession with all the attributes of a profession. Tips
are not expected nor are they an important part of their income. Restaurant staffs have salaries, paid vacation
time, and 35-hour workweeks, sick leave and pensions. During your stay in France,
you may have time to enjoy a real Parisian onion soup and a Lyonnais one as
Your onion soup may be on the menu under
one of many names:
Soupe à l”Oignon à la
Parisienne, Gratinée Parisienneor Gratinée
des Hallesamong the manynames used
for onion soup in the tradition of Paris.
Soupe à l'Oignon Lyonnaise or Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinéeamong the many names
used for onion soup in the tradition of the city of Lyon..
onion soup in the manner of Lyon.
courtesy of roboppy.
Today, whether you choose the soup served
in a Parisian Bistro or a Lyonnais Buchon
or in a restaurant with Michelin stars, if there is a trained French chef in the
kitchen the onion soup should be excellent. I am a French onion soup junkie, and from
experience, both the Parisian and Lyonnais versions make excellent, and
sometimes memorable, onion soups; there are no winners or losers. The only
differences are the flavors.
you order your French onion soup expect:
Your soup will be served with bubbling or
almost bubbling cheese on top of toasted or grilled bread or croutons. The heart of the dish is white onions,
fried until they are a dark golden brown. To the onions, depending on the
recipe used may have been added vegetable, chicken or beef stock along with a
few herbs at the chef’s discretion. Added to the stock, in the Parisian manner,
will be white or red wine or Cognac and in the Lyonnais manner will be Madeira
wine or port. The soup is transferred to individual bowls, and on top will be added slices of grilled or toasted bread or croutons
covered in grated cheese.Just before serving,
the individual bowls are placed under the grill until the cheese melts. Then
by both sight and smell a mouthwatering soup will be put before you. Bon Appétit!
N.B. The term gratinée,
when used in connection with French onion soup, indicates that the soup has
grilled cheese on top. Most of the other French names without the word gratinée
will also have grilled cheese on top, but very occasionally, that is not the
case. Check what you are ordering.
the recipes for French onion soup.
The original and oldest printed French
recipe, along with a few purist chefs today, make onion soup without any stock;
that is in the original manner of the city of Lyon. Today’ chefs who do not use
stock include Raymond Blanc and Paul Bocuse. However, the majority of recipes that I have
seen from today’s French trained, celebrity chefs working outside of France do use
stock in the manner of Paris.Those chefs
include Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Michel Roux Jr, Wolfgang Puck and Gordon
The grated cheese used in French onion
soup is also another ingredient that may be a source of arguments, though
French Gruyere is the cheese used most often. The other cheeses used include Comte AOP, French Emmenthal and Cantal AOP. In the UK and North America I have
enjoyed French onion soups where Cheddar was the cheese of choice.
NB French Gruyere cheese has holes, while
Swiss does not, or at least not large holes. French Gruyere is also slightly sweeter than
onion soup in not difficult to make, it just takes time.
I am not a chef, nor am I a particularly
good cook and this is not a cookbook; however, I can cook a reasonably
satisfying French onion soup. I use at
least one and a half large onions per person, cooked slowly and carefully until
they are golden brown; making sure those onions do not burn is the most time-consuming
procedure. Expect a good two hours of watching and turning the onions if you
are making French onion soup for ten. One and a half large onions per person may seem to be overdoing
it; however, when the onions are cooked slowly, to that golden brown color, you
may be surprised by how little onion is left by the time they are caramelized.
heart of the matter.
courtesy of hepp.
use vegetable stock to be inclusive for the vegetarians in my family, and I use
red wine for flavor and color. I allow the soup to boil on a low flame until
the volume is reduced enough to achieve the desired taste and consistency; then,
I toast or grill the bread.If I have
forgotten to buy French Gruyere cheese, I use the best yellow cheese at hand with
a sprinkling of Parmesan if needed, to give the cheese more flavor.
courtesy of The Bazile.
purist’s recipe for French onion soup.
Paul Bocuse’s French onion soup is the
soup of a purist; he uses no stock at all. Onions rule.
Paul Bocuse, without any argument, is
certainly the greatest living chef from Lyon, France, and possibly in the whole
of France.I read Paul Bocuse’s English
language book: The Cuisine of Paul Bocuse, Grafton Books. Bocuse’s
recipe is onions, butter, a bouquet-garni and a little pepper. To thicken the
soup he uses egg yolks along with a small drop of Madeira wine for additional
flavor; he uses no stock.
Photograph courtesy of WonderfulTime.
Paul Bocuse, fifty-years ago was among the great chefs who threw out the heavy sauces and warming pans of haute cuisine; he and his friends brought in the freshest produce and no dish was ever warmed up. Those chefs were the founders of Nouvelle Cuisine; now they are the gray-haired establishment. Besides Bocuse's own three-star
restaurant in Lyon he was the force behind the cooking competition that has become
the most famous cooking competition in the world, the Bocuse Dor. The international
finals of the Bocuse Dor are held bi-annually in Lyon, France.
history of the Gratinée des Halles.
Les Halles French onion soup.
Les Halles was Paris’s wholesale fresh
produce market, and in the 50’s and 60’s Les Halles was famous for its midnight
traffic jams. Parisians and visitors alike travelling to the market caused the
jams as they visited its restaurants for their legendary French onion soup; served
from midnight until 5.00am. From 5:00 am the restaurants returned to feeding
the workers in the market. There is no single Les Halles recipe, but that name
on a menu rings the bell of tradition.
Les Halles produce market is no more.
Les Halles had been Paris’s wholesale produce
market for 800 years. However, in the second
half of the 20th century, the traffic congestion, not to mention the sanitation
problems in the center of the Paris, was unacceptable. In 1971, Paris’s
wholesale fresh produce market was moved to the Parisian suburb of Rungis near
the Paris-Orly airport. Where Les Halles once stood, there is today an enormous,
but in my view not particularly attractive, below ground shopping center,
called the Forum des Halles. There is also the Les Halles Metro station and the
Châtelet-Les Halles RER train station. That RER station is also the
largest underground train station in the world. I wonder why I always stay away
Rungis, the world’s largest fresh produce market.
For those who wish to visit the Rungis produce
market, you may take the Metro line 7 to
the end of the line; then take the bus 185 to Rungis Market. By car from central Paris, it is about
half-an-hour outside of rush hour. There are 22 restaurants in the new market, some
of which serve onion soup. Rungis is the
largest fresh produce market in the world and offers organized tours for
professionals and tourists from 05:00. If you have heard of the Tokyo fish market, Rungis is that plus fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat, poultry, game and more.
While onion soup recipes have been
published since the times of the Roman empire, French Onion soup is a different
matter. The oldest recipe I have seen is in a book written by Alexander Dumas
Père, the author of The Count of Monte
Christo and The Three Musketeers, among many many other books.
Alexander Dumas Pere was also a passionate
Gourmet and he wrote two books on French cuisine.The larger of the two is Dumas’s Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine.That
book has been translated into English in an excellent, concise version called
Dumas on Food by Alan and Jane Davidson, printed by Oxford University Press. Dumas
on Food gives, in English, Alexandre Dumas’s recipe for Soupe à l’Oignon à la
Stanislas and the story behind its fame. The Stanislas noted in that recipe is
the same Stanislas Leszczynski, Duke of Lorraine and Bar, France,ex-King of Poland, father-in-law of King Louis XV of France who gave Rum Baba and a number of other dishes their name.
The National Library of France, Biblotech
National de France allows you to read, without charge, the unabridged, original,
French version of Dumas’s Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisineonline; it
comes in two parts. You may also download the 1,000 plus pages that are the
whole book, in PDF format, for a minuscule payment.
cover of the original Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine.
courtesy of the Biblotech National de France.
The Biblotech National de France website,
with English instructions, can be reached at http://gallica.bnf.fr.
For for the paragraphson Soupe à l’Oignon à
la Stanislas click on or copy and paste the link below in your browser:
Then enter page 764
and you may read about Soupe à l’Oignon a la Stanislas as well as other onion
soups that pleased Alexander Dumas Père.
The search for the absolute onion soup.
A great Soupe a l‘Oignon can be an existential
experience.Following on that, on more
than one occasion, I have covered Paris from arrondissement to arrondissement
looking for the absolute onion soup; while dragging my family around Paris with
me. I believe that once I nearly found that soup, but it still escaped me. One
day I will find that absolute onion soup
and then my soul will be content; in the meantime, I continue looking for it in
Paris and Lyon with tastings in many other parts of the world.