For Le Pichet’s French onion soup (aka soupe a l’oignon gratinée or gratin lyonnais), chef/co-owner Jim Drohman uses at 14-month cave-aged Comté cheese, which has a strong, nutty flavor and smells slightly of the barnyard. On its own, the cheese is satisfying, but melted over a bowl of rich, French onion soup, it’s sublime. At Le Pichet and Café Presse, “duck jello” is added to the onion soup. Duck jello is the term Drohman uses to refer to the gelatin-rich duck juices that are left in the bottom of the pot when slow-cooking duck legs for confit. This sort of addition is typical of the French bistro kitchen, where nothing tasty is ever allowed to go to waste. Since most home cooks aren’t regularly cooking duck legs, use duck or chicken demi-glace, which can be purchased in small containers in stores, but which can also be left out of this recipe. Read more about Comte cheese here.
4 cloves garlic, germ removed
2 1/2 pounds yellow onions
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup sherry
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 quarts chicken stock
1/8 cup duck or chicken demi-glace, optional
Salt and black pepper
2 cups grated Comté cheese
8 slices rustic country bread, preferably day-old
Peel the onions and slice thinly. Slice the garlic thinly. Wash, dry and stem the thyme. Chop it finely.
Bake the slices of country bread on a sheet pan in a very low oven until dry and crispy.
In a large soup pot set over medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic with the butter, stirring often, until richly colored. Add the sherry, increase the heat and cook until the sherry is almost completely reduced. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add the thyme, bay leaf, chicken stock and duck demi-glace (if using) and bring to a simmer. Simmer to combine the flavors, about 20 minutes.
Carefully skim the soup to remove any fat. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into individual soup bowls. Top first with the crouton and then with a nice layer of Comté cheese. Heat under the broiler until crusty and golden. Serve immediately.