Survey: raise your hand if you've ever ordered French Onion Soup from a restaurant envisioning a bowl of richly flavored broth, filling the room with the smell of caramelized onion, and topped with all the Gruyere your little heart could desire. Now raise your hand if, instead of a bowl of ambrosia, you received the equivalent of a slightly more aromatic chicken stock topped with a few sad, half-melted strands of pre-grated Safeway Swiss, alongside a chunk of day-too-old baguette. If you associate French Onion Soup with chain cafés, believing that this is a quintessential example of this dish, you probably haven't been super motivated to attempt it on your own (sorry Panera Bread). Or maybe you've never thought of it because, frankly, it just doesn't sound that interesting - I mean it is just onion, bread, and cheese in a simple stock, right? Wrong.
Anyone out there who has been lucky enough to spend some time in France knows that this simple soup can be one of the most flavorful, dynamic, welcoming dishes on any menu. Just like how many Americans view chicken noodle soup or hearty stews as warm reminders of home, French Onion Soup reminds me of the comfort of a warm bistro in Paris on a cold winter's day. While living in Paris, I scoured my quartier in search of the best French Onion Soup, and I thought I had found it in a brasserie near Place Saint Michel. I thought that, until I went back home to Sacramento and watched my mom school those Parisien chefs. BOOM!
Actually, I must give credit where credit is due. My mom's recipe is actually a page out of a Julia Child cookbook, who we all know learned everything she wrote about from none other but the French. So, you can imagine my excitement upon returning to the States only to find I could eat one of my favorite dishes whenever I told my mom to hurry up and make me a sandwich...er I mean, a bowl of onion soup. But unlike other moms that only see their beloved daughter during occasional visits and bend over backwards to satisfy any and all dining demands, mine doesn't really respond well to me barking orders as soon as I grace my family with my presence. So, she usually saves this dish for special occasions. What I'm trying to say here is that I realized early on, if I wanted this soup, I was going to have to make it myself.
And that's exactly what I did. Now, it's a part of my repertoire, and it's good...real good. And it's not because of some culinary prowess inherent inside of me that this dish is consistently just so...well...just so perfect. It's really because even a pigeon could probably follow the instructions and have it come out as it should. NOTE: It can take a considerable amount of time to execute (~3 hours), so give yourself some time. Otherwise, this is a classic, delicious example of French Onion Soup that's perfect when it's just you, a blanket, and Bravo, or when you're entertaining a group of friends.
Julia's French Onion Soup
(Paraphrased from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child et al, Volume I, “Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee”)
5 C yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1-1/2 lb)
3 T butter
1 T oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
3 T flour
2 qts boiling brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 C dry white wine or vermouth
salt, and pepper to taste
1 French baguette, cut in 3/4" thick rounds (My mom uses sourdough bread cut in large cubes, generally a LaBrea sourdough oval baked fresh daily at Costco)
3 Tb cognac
1-2 cups Swiss cheese or Gruyere shredded, and 2 oz cut into chunks
1 Tb grated raw onion
1 Tb of olive oil or melted butter
Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in a heavy covered saucepan for 15 minutes. Add the salt and sugar, raise the heat to moderate and cook 30 - 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned a deep golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
Remove from heat.
In a separate pot, bring the stock or bouillon to a boil. Blend mixture into the onions. Add wine, season to taste, and simmer partially covered 30 - 40 minutes, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning. If not served immediately, return to a simmer before serving.
While soup simmers bake the bread rounds on a baking sheet in a preheated 350º oven about 30 minutes, till hard and lightly browned, basting them with olive oil after 15 minutes, and then turning them and basting the other side. When baking is completed, rub each piece with a cut piece of the garlic.
I cube the sourdough and baste with olive oil, then toast in the oven. When you pull them out, I hand rub garlic clove around each cube.
When the stock and bread are prepared, add the cognac to the stock and pour soup into individual oven proof bowls. Add a few chunks of cheese and grated onion to each bowl. Top with golden bread rounds (or bread cubes) and sprinkle with the grated cheese and Oil or butter (Julia loves her butter, but I cut the extra oil out).
Lower heat to 325 and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Brown under the broiler if necessary.
Serve immediately. But be careful! It will be hot like lava for awhile after it comes out of the oven, and someone is bound to burn their tongue, so I usually allow the bowls to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
If you try this recipe from home, drop me a line and let me know how it turns out!
Love in a bowl!
I never order it, but my mother and aunt order French Onion soup routinely when on the menu and it is rare to find a good one. Nice post, and if you ever get bored with this recipe I'd strongly recommend checking out Martin Picard's version in the Au Pied de Cochon "Album."
I don't think I could ever get bored with it, but it would broaden my perspective to try another one! I'll check that one out.
OH YUM YUM, cousin Mark will adore it!
Awesome! It makes a ton too, and leftovers are deeeelllicious, so it would go a long way!
Perfect timing with the colder weather coming upon us. I'm sure I'll enjoy this on a cold day! Thanks for the incredible recipe.
Hey Joanne, did you ever end up making the french onion soup? Would love to know how it turned out!
How to you use it as leftover? add the bread and cheese after you reheat the "stock?"
That's exactly what I'd do. When you make it, put the stock in bowls and add the cheese/bread to the bowls so you're only adding it to what you're going to eat that night. Just grate enough cheese for the next night, and the bread only takes a couple of minutes!
I went to Paris last July. I ordered at a restaurant this soup and I it was love at first sight! I went back again to eat it again during my one week stay.
I found your site on Google and I loved Julia's recipe! Did everything from scratch. Unfortunaly the stock was less than 8 cups... Next time I will look to see if I can buy a good quality one ready made, because this took hours... and I wanted to have more stock available... Thank you!!!!!! Greetings from a Brazilian living in Helsinki, Finland!
Hey Deborah! I'm so happy to hear that you loved French Onion soup in Paris so much that you tried this recipe! Since there's only a bit more liquid than 8 cups, after you boil it for 30-40 minutes there definitely wouldn't be 8 cups left. I'd say there's between 4-6, and I put roughly a cup in each bowl. If you're making it for a lot of people, you'll go through it all in 1 night, but if it's just you, you should be able to save some of the stock for later!
But, totally agree, this recipe takes time! If you can buy a good ready made that totally works - you can buy it and add what you'd like from the recipe to add flavor! Let me know if you ever try it again, or change anything. I'd love to know if there are awesome (easier) variations!
Thanks for reaching out!
The second you read a recipe that uses "Bullion"! As a base close the book whatever happened to making stock ???
If you have the leftovers (bones) and time to make your own beef stock, more power to ya! I'm definitely for making your own stock whenever possible, but for most people that would be quite the undertaking, especially with 2-3 hours of soup-making still ahead. =)
I have all ingredients minus the cognac, how necessary is this step and is there a substitute?
You could use a dry sherry. DRY!! Otherwise it'll be too sweet.
I am a huge Julia Child fan...unfortunately, I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" much to my chagrin. I think it's awesome that you put this recipe on here! I just have a quick question. I haven't dealt with much alcohol and was wondering why vermouth is used and what it lends to the recipe. Thanks!