01 February 2018

French Onion Soup - and How to Caramelize Onions

French Onion Soup - and How to Caramelize Onions - Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee (this photo - soup in two-handled bowl on plate) / www.delightfulrepast.com

My favorite French Onion Soup came to mind recently when I read Caramelized Onions: The Controversy Continues at The Splendid Table. If you're a technique geek like me, you'll enjoy the article and/or podcast.

I can't always take the time to thoroughly caramelize the onions for a special version of my Vegetable Beef Soup, but it is a must for classic French onion soup. If you don't have the time, don't even make it.

Ever since my mother and I watched Julia Child make it on television when I was a child, I had intended to make it. Every time I had it in a French restaurant, I had intended to make it. Finally, five years ago I did. 

Naturally, I started with Julia's version in Mastering the Art of French Cooking - Volume One. And, just as naturally, I couldn't help making a few additions and subtractions as well as streamlining the directions.


French Onion Soup - and How to Caramelize Onions - Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee (this photo - soup in Le Creuset enameled cast iron mini cocotte) / www.delightfulrepast.com


The photo above shows a serving of soup in the Le Creuset enameled cast iron mini cocotte.

There's nothing difficult about it. It just takes a little patience and some good broth or stock. If you don't want to take at least 45 minutes to properly caramelize the onions, don't make this soup.

There was a time when I would have said, if you don't want to make homemade beef stock, don't make this soup. But there are some really good lower sodium organic beef stocks and broths on the market now. 

Good, flavorful, not-too-salty broth or stock, along with the properly caramelized onions, is key to this soup. There are plenty of recipes out there shortcutting the cooking of the onions. Don't you believe them!

If your eyes are as sensitive to onions as mine are, you need to get these fabulous onion goggles -- they have changed my life! And they're kind of cute, too. Unfortunately, no one was around to take a picture of me modeling them!

We have many weeks of Soup Weather ahead - tell me about your favorite soups. (And next time you're in the mood for a dip, use this same technique for homemade French Onion Dip.)


French Onion Soup - and How to Caramelize Onions - Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee / www.delightfulrepast.com


French Onion Soup - Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee



(Makes about 7 cups / about 6 servings)

1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces/680 grams) yellow onions, quartered and thinly (about 1/8 inch or so) sliced
2 tablespoons (1 ounce/28 grams) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon (0.5 fluid ounce/15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces/59 ml) dry sherry
1 quart (about 1 litre) very good beef broth or stock
1 quart (about 1 litre) water
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons (1.5 fluid ounces/44 ml) brandy, optional
6 rounds of hard-toasted French bread
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces/142 grams) grated gruyere or Swiss cheese
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1 In heavy-bottomed large pot (a 4-quart is fine, but I used my Le Creuset 5.5-Quart French Oven), cook the onions in butter and oil over low heat, covered, for 15 minutes. No need to watch them, just set the timer and walk away.

2 Stir in the salt and sugar (helps with browning). Cook, uncovered, over moderate heat (onions should be sizzling), stirring occasionally,* for about 45 minutes, or until onions are well caramelized, evenly golden brown. It might even take an hour or more, depending on the onions, your pan, your stove.

* I checked the onions every 5 minutes but did not stir them until they were sticking to the pan a bit. You need to let the onions stick a little to brown, then stir and scrape the pan. Just do not let it burn, or it's all over! You can add up to a tablespoon of additional olive oil, if needed.

3 During the last 15 minutes of cooking the onions, bring the stock and water to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan.

4 When the onions are thoroughly caramelized, turn the heat down to low. Sprinkle flour over the caramelized onions. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the sherry, and cook for 1 minute.

5 Off heat, stir the boiling liquid (gradually at first) into the onions. Stir in the thyme, marjoram and black pepper (and the brandy, if you're using it). Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning (at this point, I added another 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper). May be made ahead to this point, cooled and then refrigerated until ready to use. While soup is simmering, cut slices of French bread to fit your broiler-proof* soup bowls and toast them on a baking sheet in the oven until they are hard as well as toasted.

6 About 10 minutes before serving, preheat broiler. Bring the soup to a boil, then ladle into broiler-proof soup bowls. Place toast rounds on top, and spread cheeses over each. Place on a large, foil-lined baking sheet and put under the broiler for about 2 minutes to melt cheese and brown the tops.

* If your bowls are not broiler-proof, just broil the cheese-topped toasts and float them on top of the soup. I used slices of my Sourdough Sandwich Bread because you want to use a sturdy bread. After toasting the bread, I cut out 3.5-inch rounds with a cookie cutter, placed them on a foil-covered baking sheet, topped each with a tablespoon of grated Parmesan and about 3 tablespoons of coarsely shredded Swiss. Pop them under the broiler until cheese is bubbling and browning (in this case that was about 4 1/2 minutes), then float them on the bowls of soup.

Note: If you're a Julia Child fan, you might enjoy reading my Vegetable Quiche post about one of my conversations with her.

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89 comments:

Angie Schneider said...

I am drooling at this perfect French onion soup! Time and patience definitely paid off.

Pondside said...

Taking the necessary time with the onions is tje key!
I could eat soup every day. Currently in the fridge is the last serving of a delicious ham amd bean soup. Om the menu for the weekend is a thick Habitant-style pea soup that will make use of a lovely ham bone. I like to add a tbsp of good sherry to each serving.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Angie, thank you. I do think you'll like it a lot!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Pondside, I agree, I could eat soup every day. I'm not familiar with "Habitant-style" pea soup. You must tell us about that!

NanaDiana said...

One of my very favorites! Great recipe and I do believe caramelizing the onions makes all the difference in taste. I do that, too.
Have a wonderful Thursday-xo Diana

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Diana! Hope you have a wonderful Thursday, too!

Thomas "Sully" Sullivan said...

We at the Amelia Ehrhardt Museum demand to see a photo of you in your “onion goggles” to determine whether or not there is an infringement on our copyrighted logo – bwahaha! Well, combat readiness aside, I’m in favor of caramelizing anything and everything. Actually, I’ve grown to like French onion soup a bit for its straightforward handling of vegetables and presence of beef. Yours, I’m sure, strengthens all its traditional elements. I doffed my goggle cap to you!

At Rivercrest Cottage said...

Thanks for the recipe Stacy. I fell for one of those other recipes that said I could make the soup quickly. It really wasn't very flavorful so I'm cartelizing onions from now on. I had a cabbage soup long ago in Florida that was wonderful. It had fennel and was hot like from Tobacco or something like that. Would love to see a recipe for that.

Victoria Estep said...

I am not a fan of French onion soup but do need caramelized onions for other things. Do you have your recipe for the beef veggie soup posted? Or did I miss it?

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Sully, I do look ready for combat, or at least open-cockpit flying, in those onion goggles! Glad you approve of caramelization!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

ARC, Sugar, check my Recipes index page under Soups for my cabbage soup recipe - it gets raves, so you just might like it.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Victoria, just click on the words "Vegetable Beef Soup" -- the link will take you to it.

Debbie - Mountain Mama said...

My favorite soup???? THIS ONE!!!!!!!!!!! Ok pinning, this is going on the 'to make' list asap, before the cold weather is behind us!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Debbie, I love your enthusiasm! Be sure to come back and tell me how it turned out for you!

Pauline Wiles said...

Thank you for the onion instructions! I love almost any kind of soup, although I prefer the ones made without cream. If I had to pick a favorite, I recall a wonderful Mushroom & Tarragon I had one very chilly day in Durham when I was about seventeen...

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Mmm ... mushroom and tarragon. That has my wheels turning! As does "one very chilly day in Durham."

Leanna - Of Faeries and Fauna said...

French onion soup is such a delicious special treat. Your version with herbs looks amazing. I love caramelized onions in soup.

Tony Grant said...

Very nice Jean. I have had French onion soup on a number of occasions. Not always with brandy or wine added but its always acceptable when they are. You chose Gruyere cheese. I am not sure, but trying different French cheeses may create different eating experiences. An English way of keeping ,"internally," warm and fed in winter is to eat a good beef stew. A pint of Guiness or a pint of beer added of course.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Leanna, thank you. I definitely need to make it more often!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Love a good beef stew, Tony! That's what I made on Monday. I'm strictly a Newcastle brown ale girl myself.

Tony Grant said...

Ah! A pint of, "Newky Brown." Now your talking!!!!

Tony Grant said...

There was a bar in Greenwich Village when Clive , Barbara and I were staying in Little Italy, called the Slaughtered Lamb. It sold English beers exclusively. It advertised Bass, Newcastle Brown Ale, Guinness and other British beers. Greenwich village with its bars , music venues and cafes was just like London. I had to remind myself where I was at times. We went to the White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas drank along with many famous writers such as Hunter S Thompson, Bob Dylan and various other extremely famous people. We felt as though we were walking into an English pub in London. Weird!!! Ha! Ha! I loved New York. Can you buy Newcastle Brown Ale in your local supermarket then, Jean?

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Yes, Tony, it's now available at supermarkets nationwide. I've also found Bass, Guinness and Boddington's at supermarkets.

Tony Grant said...

Bloody Hell!!!!!!!

Tony Grant said...

I noticed in Canada and in the States there are lot of local microbreweries popping up. I drank a few great beers in Canada. Here in Britain microbreweries are the thing too. Beer production is doing well here. Where Marilyn comes from, Tenby, in Pembrokeshire, Tenby has two microbreweries. Near where we live, in South London, we have the Wandle Brewery nearby. Some lovely beers are being produced everywhere it seems. I am volunteering at a museum in Shoreditch just north of the City. Its a museum I did some work on for my Masters degree. There is a Sherlock Holmes pub nearby and they do a lovely beer called, "Sherlock." Ha! Ha!

Louca por porcelana said...

Hummmm!So yummy!That is my favorite!Thanks for the tip!Xo Maristella.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Maristella. Do let me know how it works for you.

Beatrice Euphemie said...

This just sounds so amazing! It's been a while since I've seen it on a menu. I've always wanted to try it. Those onion goggles are the perfect thing! x Karen

Mrs Shoes said...

Household favourite here is Mennonite Chicken Noodle; noodles handmade, of course. Mr Shoes makes the noodles because it is something he used to help his mother with, and because our children helped them both when they were really too small to remember. But WE remember - little sweetheart under the kitchen table, every once in a while a little hand would sneak up and grab a few raw dough noodles. They've grown up too fast. *sigh*

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Karen, thank you. Yes, I heartily recommend those onion goggles!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Mrs Shoes, I love chicken soup with handmade noodles! Whenever I make noodles, Mr Delightful always says, "Why don't you just buy noodles? That's too much work." How wonderful that Mr Shoes makes the noodles! And, yes, the little helpers (hinderers?) grow up too fast!

Barbara Windle said...

This is very much like the recipe I used to make. You are right about caramelizing the onions. The soup is no good unless the onions are cooked right. I'm pinning

Phil in the Kitchen said...

Lovely classic soup. I very rarely make this soup, not because the onions take time but because I can't be bothered to make the beef stock. You're right that it's possible to buy better stocks these days and I really should try again. I like sherry in soups but whenever I've mentioned using sherry in cooking to anyone in France they look at me strangely and mutter 'dingue' under their breath. Onion soup is great, especially on a cold day, but I'm longing for warmer weather and southern French fish soup.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Barbara. Pins (and all social media shares) are much appreciated!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Phil, and I don't mind if those people you talked to in France think I'm crazy, I like cooking with a decent dry sherry and brandy! I hope you get your warmer weather and lovely fish soup soon.

Richard Sheppard said...

I've only had French onion soup a couple of times but always liked it. I don't find it on menus often enough to order it. So now I have a great excuse to make it! though I'll probably wait till the weather changes back to winter (hoping for more rain). Right now we're having summer in February. It was 80° today and there's no end in sight!

ellen b said...

Yum! When I was pregnant with our third, a daughter, I craved French Onion Soup and found a few restaurants in Ventura, California to get my "fix". I must have needed salt or something. I can't believe I waited until last year to make it for the first time. Yours looks delicious!

Margie said...

I love onions so this soup is right up my alley.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Richard, I hope your weather will change back to winter soon and that you'll get the rain you need. Let me know if you try the soup.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Ellen, you're the first I've heard to crave French onion soup while pregnant! Glad you were able to get it. It's kind of fun to make, isn't it?

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Margie. I hope you'll give it a try. I can only eat very well cooked onions.

Gerlinde de Broekert said...

Thanks for posting this great soup, I have been a fan of Julia Child ever since I came to this country, I met her at a wine gathering here in California . I enjoyed reading you quiche blog post and your conversation with Julia, .

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Gerlinde. I'm so glad you're a Julia fan, too! I had several conversations with her, and they were always amusing.

Marisa Franca @ Allourway said...

Although I've done my share of caramelizing onions, I've never made French Onion soup. It's one of my son's favorites -- looks like I'll have to surprise him with it. This will be a lot easier to do since we're moving closer to our kids. Impromptu lunches and dinners will be easy to do. And I simply love the onion glasses -- something I'm definitely getting. My trick was getting near the stove vent, turning it on high and then chopping away. The glasses make it easier to move around. I'm pinning your recipe. My son isn't the only one who loves French Onion Soup.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Marisa, I've never tried chopping onions near the stove vent! Wouldn't work with my kitchen layout, but I could try it at a friend's house. How nice that you'll be closer to your kids!

Manu said...

This is one of my favourite soup!!
love

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Manu. It's so satisfying with that broiled cheese toast on top.

Diane said...

Oh your soup recipe looks so good.

Hugs Diane

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Diane. It was such a treat!

Cocoa and Lavender said...

The one and only time I made French onion soup was when I was in high school, and we had a French club dinner. The menu was country pâté, French onion soup, salad, and chocolate mousse. All the recipes came from Julia child’s book, I have made these recipes many times since… except the French onion soup. I love it, so I wonder why I’ve never made it again? You are inspiring me, Jean.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

David, I don't know why we do that! Every time I make something I haven't made in ages, I think, "I love this. Why haven't I been making this often?"

Carrie @ Cottage Cozy said...

This soup looks so yummy! Thanks so much for coming by to visit my blog - I am your newest follower! So many fun posts! :)

Lorrie said...

Oh my, you have me longing for French Onion soup. I do love it, and agree that the key to good flavour is the caramelization process. Otherwise it just tastes like onions and salty water. In my fridge is a serving or two of butternut squash soup, and a serving or two of Ginger Chicken Soup. We'll be fighting over who gets which one for dinner tonight.

Roseann Hampton said...

This looks fabulous! It was always one of my dad's favorite soups! Thanks for sharing at The Blogger's Pit Stop! Roseann from www.thisautoimmunelife.com

Billie Jo said...

Hello!
I love this soup!
I have never attempted to make it.
Thanks for this! Have a cozy evening. : )

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Carrie, thank you so much. And I'm going to enjoy visiting your Cottage Cozy!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Oh Lorrie, I wouldn't be able to choose between those two -- I'd have to give both of us some of each!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Roseann, I don't know that my dad ever had French onion soup. It's probably one of those things he would've thought was too fancy!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Billie Jo, thank you. I hope you will give it a try soon and let me know how it turned out for you.

Liz Berg said...

Oh, boy, this French Onion Soup would hit the spot today! I know I have at least one recipe buried in my archives---wonder if it was Julia's??? You've inspired me today!! Happy weekend, Jean.

Amy Johnson said...

Oh my goodness, this looks so good! TFS!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Liz, thank you! I wish now I'd made a double batch and froze some of it. I'll have a happy weekend as soon as I can get a pork shoulder in the oven for your delightful Cubano sandwiches!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Amy. It is a real treat and something you can make ahead to start off a fancy dinner!

GiGi Eats Celebrities said...

Caramelized onions are to die for!! My stomach is not a big fan of LOTS of onions but hot damn, give me some carameled onions and guess what? I will give my stomach the finger and tell it to deal! LOL!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Gigi! You're a hoot!

Zaa said...

OMG ..What a fabulous recipes for one of my favourite ...I didn’t know about the yellow onions ...I must try making your yummy version ... I, too have a hard time cutting onions and was advised to breath through my mouth instead of my nostrils( ha ha) somehow it stops the olfactory nerves from responding to tears....Thanks for your kind visit to the ‘ Grand Lady” ...It’s so nice to be back...Hugs

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Zaa. I'll have to try that breathing through the mouth trick next time I'm cutting onions away from home without my onion goggles!

kitty@ Kitty's Kozy Kitchen said...

I love French onion soup, Jean, and I'll have to give your version a try. Soup weather is my favorite time of the year. I made three soups last week...broccoli cheese, stuffed pepper and tortilla soups! Soup is comfor in a bowl. Happy weekend! ❤

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Kitty, wish I'd been at your house last week - I would have enjoyed all three of those soups!

Marcelle @ A Little Fish in the Kitchen said...

This recipe looks and sounds amazing, Jean! I've only eaten French onion soup at restaurants and it's always so good, but now I will try it at home!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Marcelle, thank you. Do let me know how it turns out for you *and* if you run into any problems with my directions.

Mrs Mummy Harris said...

oooooo this looks yummy! will try this soon!
Thank you for sharing this with us at #TriumphantTales. I hope to see you back next week!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Mrs Mummy! It's really quite easy for something so special.

kateonthinice said...

Oh my goodness, this looks amazing and you have inspired me as remember having something similar and loving it many decades ago now #TriumphantTales

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Kate, thank you. Decades? Sounds like it's high time you made this! :-)

Balvinder Ubi said...

This looks absolutely delicious and comforting!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Balvinder! Yes, when I dove into my first bowl, it was soooo comforting.

Diane said...

Looks so delicious.

Hugs Diane

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, Diane. I'm going to make it again real soon.

Kitchen Riffs said...

It does take time to caramelize onions, but SO WORTH IT! Love this soup -- but it's been ages since I've made it. Using Julia's recipe, natch. :-) One of the fun things about her is how her recipes evolve over the years (from cookbook to cookbook). Anyway, really wonderful post -- thanks.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, John. And funny your mentioning about her recipes evolving from cookbook to cookbook. I was just thinking about that the other day!

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Hi Jean, It was so nice to hear from you. Every time I think I've gotten to a place where I can keep up with my blogger friends, life seems to have different plans for me. I'm not blogging, but I'm okay. And glad you checked in. How nice to be remembered. And, oh my goodness, this recipe! I am not really a soup person. There are only two I eat and French Onion is one of them. I've never tried to make it, and now's probably not the right time, but I'm saving this one for "someday". Thanks, Jean. Hope you are well!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Ruth, how good to hear from you! Glad you are okay and, it sounds like, very busy. Hope you are taking good care of yourself and making time for lots of reading and writing. Happy that this is going to be one of your "someday" recipes!

Blowing Away Out West said...

So many people don't do the onions correctly. Great recipe!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thank you, BAOW! Taking the time to do things correctly really pays off in flavor.

Clearissa Coward said...

I wish I could eat it. It always smells so wonderful and your's looks delicious. Thank you for sharing with The Blogging Grandmothers. I have shared on social media.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Thanks, Clearissa! I think I love the aroma of it just as much the flavor. And thank you for sharing - social media shares are always *much* appreciated!

Jeanie said...

I've had this open on my computer for days to print out. I love Julia's soup recipe but this is a little different and I think your additions -- sherry, additional herbs, etc. -- would be excellent ones. I love onion soup -- and I'm so glad you mentioned the stirring thing. The first time I made Julia I didn't stir the onions and BIG MISTAKE! Now, like you, I set a timer and return to them often. And I always make more than I need for the recipe because a) I snack on them while they are cooking -- the cookie dough of the stove top) and b) extras can be in the fridge for a day or two and a wonderful addition to a sauce or meat topping. Thanks extra for this one!

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Jeanie, thank you so much! And I love that - "the cookie dough of the stove top!" I can leave the cookie dough alone myself, but the caramelized onions are simply irresistible! Making extra is a good idea - the extra will never go to waste!

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