Whenever I mention Creole Onion Soup in circles outside of New Orleans, I’m often asked how it differs from French Onion Soup. Well, like many New Orleans recipes, that depends on whose Creole Onion Soup you’re eating. If you’re savoring a bowl prepared by an old-school Creole or anyone carrying those traditions forward, the soup will likely contain some form of dairy and may even be puréed to a thick, velvety consistency. Several references to this style of onion soup can be found in various New Orleans cookbooks. The earliest references I discovered were in my mother-in-law’s 1901 edition of The Picayune Creole Cookbook–one of the many treasures she inherited from her mom. That amazing collection contains two onion soup recipes: Onion Soup (Potage à l’Oignon) and Cream of Onion Soup (Purée d’Oignons). The first calls for milk while the second lists cream. The second recipe also instructs the cook to press the soup through a sieve before serving thereby creating a soup that contains cream and is also creamed. Interestingly, both call for water instead of any sort of stock. Probably an economical move.
A more refined version of Creole Onion Soup, one enriched with a veal stock and finished with a subtle splash of heavy cream, is served up annually at the historic Creole French restaurant, Arnaud’s, during its Réveillon dinners. Although I’ve never eaten Arnaud’s onion soup, it sounds divine. Then there’s the unique interpretation by Commander’s Palace as published in the restaurant’s first cookbook, The Commander’s Palace: New Orleans Cookbook. Per the recipe’s headnote, Commander’s Creole Onion Soup “is a creamed onion soup that has no cream in it.” Its signature flavor and texture is derived from melting a good, sharp, well-aged cheddar cheese into the soup’s full-flavored stock. Another uniquely New Orleans style of onion soup is the Cream of New Orleans Shallot Soup found in The New Orleans Cookbook, written by Rima and Richard Collin. Although not specifically classified as a “Creole” onion soup, the shallots scream old New Orleans.
And finally, there’s my version of Creole Onion Soup. At first glance, the recipe may read like a traditional Parisian bistro menu item. But it is Creolized. My way. No dairy, expensive cheddar or shiny sieve. Just a Deep South touch of tomato paste, a respectable amount of booze, a big dash of Lea & Perrins and a garnish of fresh “shallots.”
Creole Onion Soup Recipe
1/4 cup butter
5 large sweet yellow onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 cups rich beef or veal stock
1 tablespoon Lea & Perrins (Worcestershire sauce)
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup grated Emmentaler cheese
1 cup grated white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 teaspoon garlic powder
8 1/2-inch slices French or sourdough bread, toasted
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have wilted, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are golden brown and caramelized, about 40 minutes. Add flour and stir constantly until raw smell is cooked out, about 2 minutes. Deglaze pan with bourbon and sherry, scraping the bottom to remove all the brown bits. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir in white wine, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, 5 more minutes. Add stock, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, thyme and cayenne pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until the soup has developed a deep flavor, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Preheat broiler. In a medium bowl, combine cheeses, green onions and garlic powder. Place oven-safe cups or bowls on a baking sheet. Ladle soup into each and top with toasted bread and cheese mixture. Broil until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Makes 4-6 servings.