How to make French onion soup that’s (almost!) as good as Le Pichet’s

You probably don’t have the secret ingredient for Seattle’s best French onion soup sitting in your larder, but you can get very close. Also: a version for the vegetarians.

JIM DROHMAN WAS an aerospace engineer at Boeing, but his heart wasn’t in it.

When he turned his attention to cooking, it was with a highly technical, extremely thorough mind: How did the French build their classic flavors, each element of a recipe relying upon and enhancing the others?

He went to the source to study, training at L’École Supérieur de Cuisine Francaise Jean Ferrandi in Paris, working at restaurants including Le Boudin Sauvage and the Michelin-rated Le Coq de la Maison Blanche. Upon his return, he helmed the kitchen of Seattle’s storied, much-missed Campagne. Then, in 2000, he joined forces with business partner Joanne Herron to give us the gift of the restaurant Le Pichet. Later came its sibling, Cafe Presse.

When you see French onion soup on the Pichet or Presse menu — which you will every winter, until the chill is well-dispelled (we hope) in April — you may rest assured that it is the product of intensive thought. Drohman eschews the common Parisian style, made with beef stock, in favor of the chicken-stock-based mode of Lyon; the lighter flavor of the latter, he maintains, better showcases the taste of the onions. You also may rest assured that it is delicious, with the simple flavors of onion and broth augmented with not just white wine, but also sherry, and garlic, and thyme, and something he and his staff call “duck Jell-O” — “the gelatin-rich duck juices that are left in the bottom of the pot when slow-cooking duck legs for confit,” an addition he says is “typical of the French bistro kitchen, where nothing tasty is ever allowed to go to waste.”

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Unless you’re making duck confit at home, your version of Drohman’s soupe a l’oignon…

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