French Onion Soup

At his Sur La Table demo during Taste America: Seattle, JBF Award winner Maxime Bilet applied his trademark cerebral approach to the classic dish of French onion soup. Bilet discussed both the chemistry of cooking as well as the future of food, and how modernist techniques can help to feed the world of the future. Unlike the traditional ordeal of making a stock, this soup comes together in a flash, thanks to the use of a pressure cooker. Bilet also advised that this soup can be completely vegetarian with the omission of the fish sauce.


10 servings


  • Sweet Onion Broth:
  • 750 grams (or 4 large onions) sweet onions, thinly shaved on a mandolin 
  • 3 grams baking soda 
  • 200 grams (or 7 ounces) Comté cheese, grated        
  • 35 grams water
  • 0.15% of total liquid Xanthan Gum, optional
  • Sherry vinegar to taste
  • Red Boat Fish Sauce to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Pickled Red Onions: 
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups Champagne vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 14 grams calcium lactate
  • 15 red pearl onions, blanched, peeled, and quartered
  • Stuffed Cipollini Onions: 
  • 10 small Cipollini onions, cut in half
  • 3 shallots
  • 1/2 bottle dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano
  • 1 Meyer lemon, zested
  • 1 sprig thyme, leaves picked
  • Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • For Assembly:
  • 30 small, petal-shaped, pickled red pearl onions
  • 10 stuffed cipollini onions
  • 30 chive batons


Make the onion broth: combine the sliced onions, baking soda, cheese, and water in a pressure cooker. Bring to 15 psi over medium heat for 45 minutes. Strain the broth and weigh (note: the solids make an excellent pancake with a bit of Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour, some egg white, and a touch of salt). In a blender, combine the broth and if using, the correct amount of xanthan gum (0.15 grams for every 100 grams of liquid) until well emulsified and creamy. Season to taste with the sherry vinegar, fish sauce, and salt, and set aside. 

Prepare the pickled red onions: combine water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and calcium lactate and bring to a simmer until all the ingredients have dissolved. In a large bowl, pour the hot brine over the cut red pearl onions and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

Prepare the stuffed cipollini: roast the cipollini onions in the oven at 375°F until soft, about 15 minutes. Wash, peel, and finely mince the shallots. In a medium sauté pan, sweat the shallots, making sure not to brown them, about 4 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and keep cooking until all the liquid evaporates. Turn off the heat and add the grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano, lemon zest, and thyme, and season to taste with ground black pepper and salt. 

Remove the core of each cipollini onion and gently stuff with the shallot and cheese mixture. Reserve for later.

Assemble the soup: arrange all ingredients evenly in small bowls and pour the broth over when ready to serve.