Soup season is upon us and it’s time to turn to the French for some delicious soups, stews, and casseroles, from peasant dishes to refined delicacies, that will help you stay warm through the long nights while you wait for spring.
As the French know best, it’s all about the broth. Consommé is a clear soup that is clarified with egg whites and generally served as part of a multi-course meal. It takes quite a lot of time and attention to make, but the result is a deeply flavorful experience that will warm you to the core. Chicken is a common base, as is meat, but you can also try for veal if that’s something you have easy access to, or even fish.
If you’ve heard of bisque, it was probably lobster bisque. This creamy pureed seafood soup can be made with a variety of shellfish, like shrimp or crab. The shells are simmered with stock while the meat is cooked in aromatics and herbs. Then the meat is added to the flavored broth and the whole thing is pureed and thickened with cream. A velvety and lush meal for a special night (Valentine’s Day?). Also, perfect for anyone hoping to try out that immersion blender that you got during the holidays.
Not to be confused with the Italian pasta sauce ragu, ragout is a French stew of beef and root vegetables slow cooked and then served as a main dish. You can also opt for a vegetarian version like this mushroom ragout, just as hearty and versatile.
A list of French soups would be incomplete without mention of one of France’s most iconic dishes: the humble soupe à l’oignon. Beef stock and slow caramelized onions join forces under a melted gruyère roof to produce something sweet, salty, and deeply flavorful. Substitute vegetable stock to make the dish vegetarian, and by all means, don’t forget the croutons! Bust out those ramekins and have yourself a tasty evening. Frenchly’s Bouffe column has this easy version, nicknamed “The Best Onion Soup in France.”
Down in the South of France, tomatoes are revered as the taste of eternal summer. So why not bring a little of that into the bleak winter with some canned tomatoes? Provençal Tomato Soup is similar to what you probably know as tomato soup, but it’s basil-heavy and thickened with rice, barley, or even tapioca to make a more filling dish. But you can still dip your grilled cheese, don’t worry.
Considered by some to be France’s national dish, this Christmas favorite is a beef stew “beefed” up with root vegetables like parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, potatoes, or turnips. Meaning “pot on the fire,” traditional pot-au-feu is designed to use cheap cuts of meat, and preferably marrow bones as well, to create something affordable that will stick to your bones.
Though technically more of a casserole than a stew, cassoulet is the kind of hot, thick, soupy dish that will make you want to nap through the whole winter after a hefty bowl. Made with duck, sausage, pork, and beans, this whopper of a recipe is sure to satisfy anyone for whom “protein” is a daily mantra.
This Provençal dish started as a fisherman’s cobbling together of the cheapest fish available. Now, it’s world-renowned. Bouillabaisse is made with mussels, shrimp, clams, and monkfish, and dolloped with rouille, a spiced aioli. Saffron is a key ingredient here, so make sure your spice rack is up to snuff before attempting.
For every meaty beef stew, there is a delicious vegetable-based option waiting in the wings. In this case, of course, that would be ratatouille, a one-skillet dish where thinly-sliced zucchinis, yellow squashes, tomatoes, and eggplants are layered over a tomato sauce and baked until silky smooth and soupy underneath. Though this is best in late summer when the vegetables are freshest, it’s a very forgiving dish and can easily be thrown together with whatever looks passable at the grocery store and some good olive oil. Sop it up with crusty bread!
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