Provencal garlic soup is one of those deceptively sophisticated French soups that are actually incredibly easy to make. It’s indescribably delicious and satisfying. And if no one told you, you’d probably never guess it was flavored with garlic.
Fairy Tales and Food
Everyone’s gotta eat, right? So we shouldn’t be surprised if a lot of children’s fairy tales involve food. There’s the home burgling Goldilocks, who samples bear porridge (too hot, too cold, just right!) prior to stealing bear porridge. There is also the story of Jack’s magic beans, which grow into a giant beanstalk that affords Jack the opportunity to pull his family out of poverty by murdering a giant and stealing his property. Wow. Now that I think about it these stories are awful!
Anyway, enough about teaching children to steal. I mention food and fairy tales because I have magic culinary story to tell you that seems like fairy tale.
What if I told you that you could make a scratch-made soup that was incredibly simple, surprisingly quick to prepare, and remarkably inexpensive to make with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen? And despite this low-cost simplicity, what I told you that people would be blown away by how incredibly delicious and complex it is? Finally, what if I told you this magic soup was popularized by a tall American spy who fought the Nazis during World War II? Intrigued?
Well it’s all true! The soup is Aïgo Bouido, a simple French Provencal garlic soup. The tall American spy is none other than Julia Child, who popularized the recipe in her classic cooking guide, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (that’s an affiliate link folks).
A Personal Testimonial
I first made Julia’s Provencal garlic soup years ago when I was in graduate school. It was for an impromptu Friday night dinner party with friends, and everyone was wowed by how good it was (myself included). The flavor is full of umami awesomeness. It’s intensely garlicky in a way that doesn’t’ seem garlicky at all. In fact, some people, not knowing what was in this soup, asked what it was and found it hard to believe that it was garlic soup.
That’s because the garlic isn’t fried or roasted. It’s boiled until very soft, then pressed through a sieve to create a garlic stock. All of the sharpness and harshness we associate with raw garlic mellows. It just becomes earthy and, well, umami-y (made that word up; umami-y).
Some time thereafter I taught my friend Jason–a single twenty-something fresh out of college at the time–how to make it. Jason’s not really big on cooking, but as I noted, this soup is super easy. This soup became his go to “impress your family/date/visiting friends/new girlfriend” first course. To this day Jason occasionally tells me, “That soup never fails to impress. Never!’
The garlic soup I’ve created here departs from Julia’s recipe. Noteworthy, of course, is that I’ve doubled down on the amount of garlic, which I’ve discovered is not unheard of in Provence. It definitely makes for an intensely flavorful soup, but surprisingly not what you’d consider ‘garlicky’. Also, the basic idea and technique is the same.
Garlic Soup Techniques that Seem Very Fancy but Aren’t
Provencal garlic soup is basically a full head of garlic (or two), some water, a few herbs, some olive oil, and some egg yolks. As a garnish you might want a bit of grated cheese and toasted bread (highly recommended), but that’s really about it. This is really simple fare.
A simple herbed garlic stock, while probably tasty, just isn’t a soup. It’s too watery. What makes this soup velvety and luscious is that it’s fortified with lots of extra virgin olive oil and protein-rich egg yolks. It gives substance to the soup. All of that fat works as a flavor-carrying vehicle. The rub is, of course, that without a bit of science and technique, adding eggs and oil to garlic water could be a disaster.
Regarding the eggs: eggs + hot liquid = poached eggs. Right? We don’t want poached eggs in broth. We want a rich garlic soup with velvety mouth feel.
Regarding the olive oil: oil and water don’t mix. Or so the saying goes, right? We don’t want a layer of oil on top of garlic broth. Again, We want a rich garlic soup with velvety mouth feel.
We’re going to solve both of these issues by making a liaison and tempering it. This will allow us to homogenize the ingredients (i.e., turn ingredients that normally don’t mix into a emulsion). Heck yeah! Science!
Better Living Through (Kitchen) Chemistry
How do you get the garlic broth (hot water), egg yolks, and olive oil to play nice together? It’s simple really (remember when I said this was simple?). Here are the steps:
- Whisk the olive oil into the egg yolks. Drizzle it in slowly and incorporate well. This is called a liaison. That’s a fancy French culinary term for a binding agent created by mixing egg yolks with a liquid (usually cream, but in our case olive oil). It’s designed to add thickness and, ahem, velvety mouth feel to a sauce (or a soup). Once mixed, you’ll have a thick, uniform sauce.
- If you just dump your liaison into the hot soup stock, you’ll still get some kind of weirdo scrambled egg mess. We’re not making egg drop soup, so the way you avoid this is my tempering. That’s a fancy culinary term for combining a hot liquid and a cold liquid in a way that doesn’t ruin everything. To do this, simply add a ladleful of hot garlic stock to your bowl of egg and oil liaison, whisking well as you do so. This will slowly raise the temperature of the liaison, but won’t turn the eggs into scrambled eggs. Now ladle in a bit more stock. Finally, dump the warmed bowl of liaison into the pot of hot stock. Keep whisking.
That’s it. Rich soup with velvety mouthfeel accomplished. Steps one and two above are very easy to accomplish and they come together super fast. We’re talking sub-five minutes. If people watch you as you do this they’ll think you’re Auguste Freakin’ Escoffier.
And that, my friends, is all I’ve got for you today. Enjoy your garlic soup you fancy-pants cooks you!
- 2 Heads Garlic
- 2 Quarts Water
- 3 Whole Cloves
- 2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Sage
- ¼ Teaspoon Dry Thyme
- 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 Egg Yolks
- 4 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Shredded Gruyere Cheese
- Toasted Slices of Whole Wheat Baguette
- Bring the water to a simmer in a large stock pot.
- Break the head of garlic apart into individual cloves. No need to peel them yet. Drop them into the boiling water.
- After two minutes, scoop the garlic cloves back out of the water with a hand sieve. Now peel them (the peels should come right off). Return the garlic cloves to the pot.
- Add all of the herbs and the salt. Allow to simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.
- Strain the soup into a large bowl, catching all of the garlic and herbs in a sieve. Return the strained soup to the stock pot and return to a simmer.
- Using the back of a wooden spoon, smash the garlic cloves in the sieve over the stock pot, pressing the solids through the seive. All of this pulverized garlic will turn the stock cloudy.
- Meanwhile, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the egg yolks in a clean bowl, whisking as you go to make a liaison.
- While still whisking the egg and oil mixture, add a ladlefull of hot garlic stock. Continue to whisk so eggs don’t scramble. Add a second ladleful of stock. Continue whisking. Finally, dump the now warmed egg and olive oil liaison into the garlic stock and whisk until smooth.
- Serve with slices of toasted baguette and shredded cheese.