Sauce Soubise is one of those recipes that shows up very often in mid-Victorian to Edwardian cook books, at which point it seemed to go thoroughly out of fashion. Instructions to make it varied quite a bit, although the main question seemed to be whether the onion got boiled or not before the pan cooking. I chose not, and I think that was the right choice. Boiling the onions would have made them very mild, but since I am not a delicate Victorian who faints (with horror, not delight) at a whiff of allium, that was exactly what I didn’t want.
That said, it’s important to choose good, tasty onions, and to cook them quite thoroughly, even though they are not to brown. Not too surprisingly for a Victorian sauce, this will be best as an accompaniment to fairly plain cooked meats, poultry, and fish. Although, we had a fair bit left over and the next day I tossed it with pasta and vegetables, very successfully. It kept very well so this is something that could be made the day ahead and reheated easily.
So will this dish come back into fashion? Likely not. It was quite tasty, but it’s still basically a creamed onion sauce, and one that is fairly slow and finicky to make. It’s not a surprise that it went out of style at just the time when middle-class women in large numbers started having to do their own cooking.
6 to 8 servings1 hour prep time
450 grams (3 large or 4 medium) onions4 tablespoons unsalted butter1/4 teaspoon saltfreshly ground black pepper to tastea few good scrapes of nutmeg1 tablespoon barley flour OPTIONAL1 tablespoon sherry
1 1/3 cups whole milk OR light cream
Trim and peel the onions. Reduce them to a purée, either by grating them very finely, or processing them in a food processor.
Heat the butter in a large, non-reactive skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, along with any juice they have exuded in the puréeing process. Simmer the mixture, stirring regularly, until the onions smell “done”. This will be about 30 to 40 minutes. Reduce the heat after the first few minutes; they should cook very slowly and not turn brown at all, although by the time they are cooked the whole mixture may have darkened very slightly. While they cook, season with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
If you wish to have a fairly thick sauce, sprinkle the flour over the onions at this point and mix it in well. Sprinkle over the sherry. Cook for another minute or two, then begin to add the milk or cream slowly, stirring well between each addition to ensure a smooth sauce. The onions will form a thick enough paste that flour may not be necessary; in that case just add the milk or cream in the same way as if the flour had been added.
When the milk or cream is all in, and the sauce is smooth, transfer it to a serving dish, and serve.
Last year at this time I made Poppy Seed – Bran Soda Bread.