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Turn It Up

Zox Kitchen: January 11, 2013

The Soubise Casserole: Risotto Made Easy 

Risotto is the delicious, creamy rice dish that I felt uncomfortable cooking for the first time after reading what seemed like a complicated recipe. I knew how good it could be but was off balance giving it a go. It’s a needy dish that requires lots of personal attention. Your worst nightmare is burning the rice while having your second glass of wine. You know that a well-prepared risotto may be the richest and tastiest dish you’ll ever eat.  But it always took too long to assemble so I usually prepped in advance so the dish could be on the table in less time. And then I discovered Soubise.

Soubise is one of those classic French recipes that one of our greatest chefs, Julia Child, included in her  famous book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Recently I had the pleasure of attending a holiday dinner party where the dish was served. It had been years since I had first tasted the delicious treat and had forgotten it was normally made with Arborio rice, like risotto. But unlike traditional risotto that takes 20-30 minutes standing over the dish while the rice is first braised with diced onions in a pilaf style, Soubise is a casserole that is much simpler but no less exceptionally special. Onions are sautéed and rice is parboiled for five minutes, after which the entire dish is left alone in the oven at 300 degrees for one hour.

It is simple, easy and risotto-like with less fuss and attention paid to the cooking process while guests are arriving. No quicker to the table but far less time attending to the details like risotto. Soubise, in contrast, can be assembled as a casserole in less than 10 minutes, cooked in the oven in less than an hour, and finished in virtually no time at all.  

Julia Child’s Soubise Recipe  

Serves 4  

(not to be confused with Soubise Sauce—made with Béchamel)

1/2 cup Arborio rice  

Two cups salted water (or enough to cover)

Four cups yellow onions, sautéed    

Four tablespoons unsalted butter (Two tablespoons is also nice)

One teaspoon kosher salt

Pepper to taste

1/4 cup heavy cream (Half-and-half works as well) 

1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese        

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Then pour the rice into the rapidly boiling water with a pinch of salt for five minutes. Remove from the stovetop and set aside. Melt the butter in a three-quart casserole dish with the sliced onions (sliced very thin on a mandolin, a food processor or a very sharp chef’s knife).  Sauté the onions briefly on top of the stove with the rest of the salt and pepper. Cover the casserole dish and place in the preheated 300-degree oven for one hour. Continue cooking if necessary until finished.

Remove the dish from the oven and stir while mixing in the cream and cheese.  Taste to see if the rice is al dente. Return the dish to the oven to finish. You may wish to remove the casserole top and continue cooking for a few more minutes until a crust is formed—an added benefit I particularly enjoy.