When I was a girl, French onion soup was the end-all be-all of my culinary existence. When I was in France, I would search high and low for the little restaurants that sold it. I just had to have French French onion soup.
Though French onion soup was my favorite food, with its bubbling blanket of Gruyère draped like an oozing carpet over the sweet broth below, I was very finicky. I only deigned to eat certain parts of the French onion soup. I picked off that nutty cheese, and allowed it to cascade into my mouth in long, moonlight-colored cords, delighting in any found bits of crisp, crackery burnt cheese. But I carefully discarded the underlying bread, wringing it out with my spoon to salvage as much of the broth as possible. With that out of the way, I would skim the top of the soup with my spoon, and slurp.
But nary an onion would cross the threshold of my lips. When I got to the bottom of the crock bowl, I would press down on the onions, commanding them to relinquish their last grasp of any juice that remained. Some onions sloshed out of the bowl entirely, and some remained, but none of them were eaten. My grandmother looked at my lunch and started. I had decapitated, dissected, and dismembered the soup. Madame Defarge would have been proud. Mémé had every right to be taken aback at such a horror. To this day, that is still how I, the guillotine of French onion soups, eat my very favorite.
To my young eyes it was my witch's brew, a relic from the land of my (seemingly ancient) maman. It looked like a cauldron, bubbling away, and my young mind could never quite determine what went into the potion. It had me locked in its spell. I was an addict.
Now that I'm old enough to make my own French onion soup, the obvious question arises: What to do with all those onions I left drowned at the bottom of the pot? Waste not, want not. For my inspiration I traveled not to Alsace, not to Normandy, not to Provence, but to the intersection of Stanton and Ludlow on the Lower East Side of New York City, to The Stanton Social.
The Stanton Social is a New York restaurant that is, for lack of a better word, bumping. Their métier is tiny plates--not tapas, because they are not Spanish. In fact, the food comes from all over the world, a happy little comingling that puts the UN, only 30 blocks up the road, to shame. Perhaps the secret to world peace is that everything is served to share in miniature. Anyone who has been there (and that is a lot of New Yorkers) will tell you that the Stanton Social's signature dish is the French onion soup dumplings, which I like to think crosses the flavors of Paris with the preparation of once-colonial Indochine. I love them because they're so absolutely crazy. They taste just like French onion soup, but in a one-bite wonder.
For the truly French in a Flash preparation, my version of this genius reincarnation, I use the onions left over on the bottom of my soup pot, or I go to the Whole Foods near me, which always has French onion soup at the hot soup bar, and just scoop out as many of the onions as I can. If you do that, this dish will take you five minutes to make and five minutes to cook. If neither of those options is available to you, fear not. I've included a recipe for Counterfeit French Onion Soup Onions, which will work in a pinch.
All the flavors are there: the sweet, sweet, savory onions, the mellifluous stock, the nutty, aromatic, melting Gruyère. Only that soggy bread is replaced with wonton wrappers. Perfect!
Make this for a cocktail party and watch your friends turn as nutty as toasted Gruyère over them. Just as if by a spell cast over a witch's cauldron, they'll vanish. I guess there are some things in life that, happily, we never grow out of.
A Note on Some Ingredients
You can find wonton wrappers in almost any supermarket, usually refrigerated with the produce, near the cold tofu. The trick is to never leave them out of their packaging or they'll just dry out. Take out one stack at a time, and leave the rest in a sealed baggie.
Gruyère is iconic with French onion soup, but if you can't find it, try Comté, Emmenthaler, or in a real pinch, just plain Swiss.
I like using a mix of red onions and yellow onions. But just use three large of whatever you have on hand.
When using liquor, like Cognac, in the kitchen, decant the amount you need in a glass, and cork the bottle, setting it aside. Only then should you pour your reserved Cognac into the hot pan.
About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way.
- Counterfeit French Onion Soup Onions (recipe below), or 1 to 1 1/2 cups reserved onions from French Onion Soup
- 15 to 20 wonton wrappers
- 1 cup Gruyère, grated
- 1/3 cup Parmesan, grated
- Chives, or twigs of thyme, for garnish
- A pat of butter
- Counterfeit French Onion Soup Onions
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 red onions, thinly sliced
- 1 sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup cognac
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- The leaves of 4 sprigs thyme
Preheat the broiler.
To make the dumplings, spray 2 individual gratin dishes with nonstick cooking spray, and set them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Take a wonton wrapper in your hand, and dip you finger into the strained broth (see above), moistening the entire wrapper. This procedure will not only allow the dumpling to adhere and keep its shape, but will also steam the wrapper itself while the dumplings are in the oven. It's a messy job, but if you want French Onion Soup Dumplings, you've got to do it.
Take about a teaspoon of drained onions, and place it into the center of the wonton wrapper. Fold one corner up to meet the opposite corner, and press the sides of the triangle together. Take the other two sides, and bring them up to the central point, and twist, forming a little beggar's purse, or dumpling. Place the dumpling seam side down in the baking dish. Keep making dumplings until you have packed both gratin dishes.
Top each gratin dish with half the Gruyère and half the Parmesan. Dot little dabs of butter all over the top of the cheese. This will allow the cheese to brown and toast like on real French Onion Soup.
Sit the dumplings under the broiler, until they look like French Onion Soup after about 5 minutes. The cheese should be bubbling and golden.
Stick a decorative toothpick into each dumpling, and scatter chives or thyme stems over the top. Serve right from the oven.
Counterfeit French Onion Soup Onions: Heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan on medium-low heat. Add the onions, sugar, salt, and pepper, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may have to turn your heat down to low if you find them caramelizing too quickly. You want them very soft, but not burnt.
After 30 minutes, add the cognac, and let it reduce for 1 minute. Add the wine and beef stock and bay leaf and thyme. Season again with salt and pepper. Simmer on low for another 30 minutes. Afterwards, set the onions into a strainer over a bowl to cool almost completely. Reserve both the onions, and the broth that drains from them. You will want to use the same drain-and-reserve method if you are using bought or reserved onions!