LAST NIGHT we had one of my favorite meals, Jolie Brise soup. It’s a seagoing soup, of course, named after the world-famous, wooden, gaff-rigged pilot cutter that, even in its dotage, is still a force to be reckoned with. In 2011 she was first in class and overall winner of the Tall Ships Race — and not for the first time.
Jolie Brise started life in France in 1913, as a working pilot cutter in Le Havre, but she was bought for private use in 1923 by an Englishman, Commander E. G. Martin. He sailed her to a win in the first Fastnet Race in 1925 and became famous for more ocean-going exploits in other yachts in later years.
Commander Martin sailed with a hefty, hardworking crew in Jolie Brise and they brought with them some hefty appetites, so it’s not surprising that one of his favorite meals was onion soup. It’s just what a hungry crew needs on a brisk night at sea, hot, tasty, and chock-full of energy. It’s quick and easy to prepare and handy because onions keep well on a boat.
You should try it sometime. Here’s the original recipe from Commander Martin:
Place four medium-large onions, peeled and cut into quarters, into a covered saucepan with 3 to 4 cups cold water.
Add 2 tablespoons Bovril (or other strong beef stock), 4 ounces butter, a dessertspoonful Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, a little black pepper, and (when the cooking is nearly done) a small glass of sherry or rather more white wine.
Boil gently for 30 minutes or until the onions have fallen to pieces and are soft, stirring occasionally.
Now, you might be a little taken aback at the amount of butter in this recipe, but you must remember that it was meant to satisfy the energy needs of hardworking men in a cold climate. And anything with that much butter in it is bound to be delicious. But now I cut the butter ration in half, to 2 ounces, and still find it very tasty and satisfying. I tried a vegetable spread substitute once and it was a disaster. Stick to butter.
We can find Bovril occasionally in the British section of our local supermarket, but I more often use beef stock cubes instead — enough to make 5 cups of bouillon.
So give it a go, and save some of that sherry or white wine for a small toast to a real sailor and a wonderful boat: Commander Martin and Jolie Brise!
Onion soup sustains. The process of making it is somewhat like the process of learning to love. It requires commitment, extraordinary effort, time, and will make you cry.
— Ronni Lundy, “The Seasoned Cook,” Esquire, Mar 84
Notice on a thermostat in a hotel room in Kobe, Japan:“You do not have to get yourself hot in this room. Please control yourself.”