french onion soup

The weather has been such a tease lately. Seventies on Sunday, thirties this morning, it’s gray, it’s sunny, it’s in-between! Oh my. I made onion soup (B: “French onion soup?” Why, yes, is there any other kind?!) for lunch yesterday, one of the more gloom and doom days we’ve experienced in a while. For about an hour this morning (the hour when the sun was out), I wasn’t sure about posting a hearty soup-and-cheese-and-bread recipe today. But then the clouds came out to play, and it seems like a soup day after all.

This recipe is a total French classic, executed in a brilliantly simple style by Julia Child, who was not French but might as well have been. And while I usually attach the caveat of “this may not be authentic, but it is delicious!” to my recipes, this one is both. Ha! This is the one type of cuisine I can lay claim to.

It’s a double-edged sword, though, because I think when most people see the words “French Food,” they still imagine the fancy, the expensive, the impossible-to-replicate-at-home. This little ol’ soup could not be farther from such monikers. You brown the heck out of a pound and a half of onions in some olive oil, butter, and salt. You sprinkle in a little flour (to thicken) and you add liquid. Julia recommends beef stock and a splash of white wine, which is what I’ve used the past couple times with fabulous results, but my dad gets the same mileage out of water and sometimes chicken stock. You simmer it all together, the longer the better, and ladle it into a bowl with little floaters of toasted bread and cheese. Friends, this is one of the cheapest dishes you can make.

And before we go on, a word about that cheesy bread. I am, to my bones, no fan of the gratin top that accompanies 99% of restaurant onion soups. You know what I’m talking about. When the cheese gets all melted under the broiler and forms a sort of gooey lid over [soggy] bread and, beneath that, the actual soup. Not for me. The way I was raised, there’s a basket of toasted baguette rounds and a plate of grated cheese on the dinner table, and you adorn your own soup bowl moments before eating it. The cheese still melts, but the bread stays crunchy — and that textural contrast is, after all, the entire point of adding toasted bread to soup.

I hope I’ve made myself clear.

But even if you’re a devotee of the gratin top, you’ll love the soup underneath. Try it today! Before the weather gets nice!

Julia Child’s French Onion Soup
(Adapted Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with some proportions tinkering)

Enough to generously fill three soup bowls

  • 1 1/2 lbs or about 5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp sugar (helps the onions to brown)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 quart boiling low-sodium beef stock, or 2 cups boiling water and 2 cups beef stock (N.B. For this amount of onions, Julia actually recommends two quarts of liquid. I halved it, the first time by accident, and now because I find the soup so much thicker and richer for it.)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tbsp cognac (optional; I omitted)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • several rounds of thinly sliced toasted baguette
  • 1 cup grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, melt the butter and oil together. Add the onions, cover, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

Remove the cover, raise heat to moderate, and add salt and sugar. Cook 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions have turned an even, deep brown color.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.

Add the boiling liquid and wine. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes, skimming occasionally. Season to taste. (At this point, you can remove from heat and let the soup hang out until ready to eat.)

Just before serving, add the cognac. Pour the soup into bowls and add bread rounds and a generous handful of cheese. Enjoy!


3 responses to this post.

  1. What kind of stock do you use? Or is it homemade?


    • Posted by iowasthinking on April 6, 2011 at 8:33 am

      Welllll… I like to use homemade, but more typically just get whatever’s on sale at the co-op. I think one of the usual brands is Pacific Natural Foods.


  2. mmm…I love this! And I totally agree with you about the way the cheese is typically used being a little icky…your way is much better!


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