Monday, January 21, 2013

To Make an Onion Soup

To Make an Onion Soup

Take half a pound of butter, put it into a stew pan on the fire, let it all melt, and boil it till it has done making any noise; then have ready ten or a dozen middling onions peeled and cut small, throw them into the butter, and let them fry a quarter of an hour; then shake in a little flour, and stir them round; shake your pan and let them do a few minutes longer; then pour in a quart or three pints of boiling water, stir them round; take a good piece of upper crust, the stalest bread you have, about as big as the top of a penny loaf cut small, and throw it in. Season with salt to your palate. Let it boil ten minutes stirring it often; then take it off the fire, and have ready the yolks of two eggs beat fine , with half a spoonful of vinegar; mix some of the soup with them, then stir it into your soup, and mix it well, and pour it into your dish. This is a delicious dish.

Hannah Glasse, “The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy”

Color me skeptical, but I thought this looked awfully … bland. The modern commentary on it claimed that “the English recipe uses an egg yolk liaison and a splash of vinegar to add richness and depth.” I’m no foodie, but I figured what the heck. I’d give it a try, but I decided to just make a half batch.

This turned out to be a good decision.

Melted butter? Good. Onions (BTW, a “middling onion” was probably about an inch and half or so across) frying in the butter? Better. It was all good until I added the water and the bread crumbs. “Season with salt to your palate.” Okay. Now I am 1/16th (I think it is) Norwegian, which seems to have manifested itself in my cheekbones and tastebuds. My mother was from the upper Midwest where “whitening agents” were regularly added to food to make sure they were bland enough. My palate is calibrated to where I find Taco Bell with NO added sauce quite festive, thank-you-very-much. I tell you this so you understand when I say this was bland, I know what I’m talking about. Even with salt, it was tasteless, so I added a period pepper blend. Now it was simply insipid. I thought that maybe the vinegar was the magic bullet it needed, so I added the egg yolk/vinegar “liaison”. The improved it to a point where I’d be comfortable calling it “weak”.

Good enough for a cooking competition? Eh. I’m sure a foodie could find some way to put a positive spin on this and sell it to the judges, but I can’t do it. My commentary would have something to do with the fact that every bad British cooking joke can trace its origins to this dish.

BTW, I added chicken bullion, kielbasa, brown rice and some leftover black beans. It may not be great, but at least it will have some taste. And I’ll have lunch for the week.


  1. It seems, looking through very old recipes, that flavor was not so much a sought after quality. How else does one explain golfebeater (I know only the name, phonetically. I beleive its similar to lutefisk.)? Got fish? Check. Soak it in lye, to kill the invithible biting demonth. Now leave it on the beach. Eat in several months, when the sun comes out and you realize you've been eating wood out of the stack, but it vas too dark to notice, yah? Cousine has come a long way since my Swedish grandmother cooked with goose grease.

  2. If it works, there is NOTHING wrong with it :-)

  3. 'Taco bell with no added sauce quite festive...' had to laugh. But I agree...