I’m so tired of talking about the weather. Can we talk about French Onion Soup for a minute?
In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child taught a generation of home cooks about the importance of the very long caramelization of onions that carries Soupe à L’Oignon Gratinée — 2 ½ hours, at least, from start to finish.
Yet too often when I order this cheese-crowned darling in a restaurant, I want to weep into my ramekin at the sight of pale stringy onions that have yet to develop any of the rich, rustic sweetness of their caramelized cousins.
“The onions need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavour which characterizes a perfect brew,” writes Julia.
Other onion soup aficionados have noted that the croutons must be toasted hard so they don’t fall apart in the soup. I will add to the chorus of opinions and say that not nearly enough attention is paid to the cheese. Are we meant to just be grateful for its presence? (Thank you chef, thank you for melting cheese on my soup!) I maintain the golden crown must not only act in harmony with the onions, it should also be one with the spoon! That gooey lid should be neither too tough to penetrate nor impossibly oozy as to transform the eater into a mid-act mime contorting its arm in a stringy fromage fit.
At Hintonburg Public House — where Chef Mark Currier recently took over the reins from Kris Kshonze — the French Onion Soup (part of the new winter menu) is a thing of beauty.
Traditionalists might balk over the fact that there’s barely any soup in this soup — the broth appears to have been soaked up by the onions turning it into a beautifully dark onion stew, if there was such a thing. I have never before seen such a deeply caramelized tangle of onions, a perfect nest for chewy-crisp crusty croutons that lay beneath a supple blanket of excellent nutty cheese. Melting and rich, soothing sweet; it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call this dessert. Almost.
For a second course, I ordered the spatzle — the menu’s main vegetarian option — and was delighted by the light as air, tiny German dumplings that melted away on the tongue. Each nubby squiggly noodle had a light brown edge from a quick toss in a hot pan and was matched by a mélange of buttery brussel sprouts, diced carrot and parsnip, and button mushrooms in a light, peppery savoury gravy (called broth on the menu, but again, imagine stew rather than soup).
Now, wasn’t that more fun than talking about the weather?
Cost: French onion soup $8; spatzle, winter vegetables, mushroom broth $17
Hintonburg Public House, 1020 Wellington St. W., 613-421-5087.