The stimulus for this meal came from the series of less than satisfactory French onion soups (Fos) that I've suffered from at almost every restaurant at which I've ordered them.
Could I do better than these restaurants?
Haute cuisine it had to be.
The recipe comes from Cordon Bleu Cookery Course first published in 1968.
It produces both an great Fos and a substantial main course because we made a Pot au feu (pot on the fire) to produce a sensational broth. Pot au feu has a very long history and the meats used in it are varied according to the region in which it is made. Recipes for it appear from about the mid 18th century. A pot au feu may seem a little like a stew but it is really quite different. It never has potaoes in it and the vegetables are cut into quite large pieces.
3 lb rolled beef (with the bones)
1 lb knuckle of veal or veal bones
1 dessert spoon salt
about 5 pints of water
2 large carrots, quartered
2-3 onions, one stuck with a clove
2-3 sticks of celery
1-2 turnips quartered
a large bouquet garni
Put the meat into a very large pan, a heavy based pot is best, with salted water and washed bones and bring slowly to the boil without a lid. Skim off the scum as it rises to the surface. As it reaches simmering point add a coffee cup of cold water and bring to the boil again, skim once more and add a further cup of cold water. This can be repeated until the broth is clear.
Simmer for 30 -40 minutes, partially covered, and then add the vegetables and bouquet garni. Continue to simmer, skimming again if necessary, until the meat is tender which may be up to 3 hours. In our case it only took an hour and a half.
Remove the meat and vegetables. They can be served as a main course later.
Skim off the fat and put aside
Sieve the broth. If you wish you might reduce it further for a stronger taste.
Now for the soup
2 1/2 ounces of butter (about 80 gm)
2 1/2 pints of the broth from the pot au feu
salt and pepper
1-2 glasses of champagne, preferably flat (optional, we used a brut Australian bubbly - Snow Road)
3 oz each of Gruyere and Parmesan grated
1 slice of french bread / person
1 egg / person
Have ready small earhenware soup pots with lids
Slice or chop the onions finely (I sliced them about 3mm thick), fry in butter until golden brown.
Bring the bouillon to the boil and add the onions. Season and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the champagne if using it.
Bake the bread in the oven until crisp. Mix the cheeses and sprinkle over the bread.Place one slice in each bowl.
Each guest should have a small bowl with a raw egg and another with some extra cheese
The soup must be really boiling as it it poured over the bread the egg is broken into the soup, We broke the egg into a bowl first,extra cheese added and beaten with a fork
The egg cooks a little and thickens the broth adding character to its taste and texture.
We added a couple of minor variations - partly melting the cheese under the grill before placing it in the bowl and we used a Fontina, an Italian melting cheese.
It did take a long time but it was magnificent
I strongly recommend it for a dull cold Sunday. It will lift your spirits!