French onion soup is one of those dishes that, by virtue of its simplicity, is astonishingly easy to get terribly wrong.
I’ve had many a French onion soup in my day: it’s relatively cheap, all things considered, and it’s one of my father’s favorite French dishes, which means that more often than not, we order one to share nearly everywhere we sit down in Paris. But most of the soupes à l’oignon that I’ve tried have been unfortunate: too salty or too greasy, with more of a flavor of bouillon cube than of richly caramelized onion.
Still, I’ve always been intrigued by the dish, and even more so since learning that it originally comes from the area around Paris’ former Les Halles market. So I did what any good journalist does: I decided to go to the source.
Au Pied de Cochon is one of the few remaining restaurants from the heyday of les Halles, and it pops up in nearly every Google search for “best onion soup in Paris.” It seemed, then, that it would be the perfect place to go to ask a few questions about soupe à l’oignon for a historical piece I was working on for Munchies.
But while I knew I’d get my questions answered here, it never even crossed my mind that I might also find my top French onion soup experience of all time. I expected Au Pied de Cochon to be a victim of its success; I’m very pleased to have been mistaken.
Au Pied de Cochon is one of the only 24-hour restaurants in Paris; as someone who used to be a frequent 3am diner patron, I find this attractive in and of itself. But it turns out that Au Pied de Cochon used to be open only at night, and its specialty, onion soup, was both the preferred breakfast of market workers and the favored nightcap of bourgeois cabaret-goers.
I’m sorry to say that I enjoyed mine at lunchtime, though the glass of white wine that accompanied it almost makes up for eating soup at such a normal time of day.
The soup is served in a simple white bowl, with a burnished top created, I know, by slipping the soup under the broiler just before serving. The restaurant manager tells me a few secrets to its success: season the onions with pepper, only, to keep the soup from becoming too salty; use day-old bread to ensure that it doesn’t melt into the broth.
What I don’t know is the secret for how the restaurant has mastered the perfect texture: the cheese isn’t stringy or greasy, but gooey and flavorful and easy to cut with the tip of the spoon into manageable bites.
(I do, much ashamedly, leave some of the cheese behind in the bottom of the bowl; it accounted for about a third, by volume, of the portion.)
I’ll have to return to try the restaurant’s other specialty: the pig’s trotter for which it is named (and which is depicted on its door handles). For now, the only pig I try is the pink meringue I receive at the end of my meal.
Au Pied de Cochon – 6 Rue Coquillière, 75001