Onion Panade

Panade à l’Oignon au Gratin

Preparation info

  • Servings:


    • Difficulty


Appears in

Simple French Food

By Richard Olney

Published 1974

  • About

Your dried-out bread should correspond, as nearly as possible, to the coarse, vulgar, compact, heavy loaf of sourdough peasant bread.

The onions should be of tender-fleshed sweet variety, softening readily and uniformly in cooking—the large white summer onions or violet Bermudas. Some of the yellow-skins are sweet, other varieties tough and strong (if only the latter are available, don’t renounce).

The cheese must be freshly grated and only two—either singly or together—are ideal; Swiss Gruyère and Italian Parmesan. The Swiss cheese should never be soft and elastic—these are the qualities that transform the eating of onion soup into a taffy-pulling contest. A good Gruyère, less than half the size of the 200-pound wheels of Emmental, is aged for about 6 months. It is always firm and relatively dry without being hard—crumbly under firm pressure. It contains only a few, tiny holes, or none, and its color is darker and duller than the pale yellows of Emmentals and American Swisses. It is dry and nutty in flavor—sometimes lightly sharp but never biting.

Parmesans pose less of a problem. Cylinders of 50 to 80 pounds are aged for from 2 to 3 years, and even the freshest (which are also good table cheeses) are sufficiently ripened to cook properly without forming rubber ribbons.

A wide-mouthed earthenware vehicle, broader than it is high (leaving the largest possible surface for the gratin to form) is perfect and may be used, as well, for coloring the onions (protected by an asbestos mat from the direct flame). If enameled ironware is to be used, the onions should be colored in another heavy vessel—copper, earthenware, cast-iron, since an enameled surface does not color them correctly.

The mind rarely registers weights and measures in terms of visual bulk. The precision of the measures given here could not be of less importance; the thing to remember is that there should be lots of onion, lots of bread, and lots of cheese in relation to the (undetermined) amount of water. Just before putting the casserole into the oven, the surface may, if one wishes, be sprinkled with Cognac.