Just ahead, the Château Frontenac promised warmth, a glass of wine, a crusty bowl of French onion soup. . . .
Jean laughed and leaned away as the waiter placed a huge burger and frites in front of him. A bubbling French onion soup sat in front of Émile, and Gamache was given a hot bowl of pea soup.
“I met a fellow this morning who’s training for the race,” said Gamache.
“Bet he’s in good shape,” said Émile, lifting his spoon almost over his head, trying to get the stringy, melted cheese to break.
—Bury Your Dead
Makes about 4 cups (1 liter)—2 main-course servings or 4 first-course servings
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz/57 g) unsalted butter
- 2 pounds (1 kg) yellow onions (about 5 medium onions), peeled and sliced ¼ inch/7 mm thick
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) white wine or 3 tablespoons (45 ml) dry sherry
- 3 cups (750 ml) beef or chicken broth, preferably homemade
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Half a French baguette, cut into ½-inch slices
- Olive oil
- 1 cup (3 oz/90 g) grated Gruyère cheese
1. Heat the butter in a medium (4-quart/4-liter) heavy-bottomed pot over low heat until bubbling. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until very well browned, about 45 minutes.
2. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the wine or sherry and cook, stirring, until almost evaporated. Add the broth, bring to a boil, and adjust the heat so the soup is barely simmering. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook until the onions are very tender, about 15 minutes.
3. While the soup is simmering, make the toasts: Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Lightly brush both sides of each slice of bread with olive oil. Arrange the bread on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
4. Position the oven rack about 8 inches from the broiler and preheat the broiler. Ladle the soup into 2 ovenproof crocks. Cover the top of the soup with a layer of toasts, then spread a layer of the cheese over the toasts. Place the crocks on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Let the crocks sit for a few minutes before serving, handling them carefully.
5. Variation: If you don’t have ovenproof crocks, make the cheese toasts and float them on top of the soup: Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Make the toasts as described above and line them up on the sheet. Top with the grated Gruyère. Bake until the cheese is golden brown and the toasts are very crisp, about 12 minutes. Ladle the hot soup into bowls and top with the cheese toasts.