This is not health food and there are no shortcuts; but boy is it worth it. French onion soup is probably my most favorite soup. It is an indulgence. I don’t eat it often and when I do, I want it to be worth it. This recipe is worth it. In fairness, it’s not the soup that’s the indulgence. It’s the thick layer of bubbling and slightly golden brown Gruyère cheese that makes this classic a real splurge. People ask me all the time if you can make this soup “healthier.” The answer to that? No. You could skip the cheese, which would make it a lot healthier. But let’s face it: that’s not French onion soup.
I vividly remember the day in culinary school when I learned how to properly make this French classic. It was life changing. Credit for creating this soup is often given to King Louis XV after he found himself stranded at a hunting lodge late one night with nothing in the pantry except onions, butter, and champagne: what followed was the creation of one of the most popular soups of all times. Although unconfirmed, it’s ironic that Louis XV, who historians consider to be one of the weakest and most ineffectual monarchs of his dynasty, perhaps created one of the most loved soups of all times.
Making French onion soup is not terribly difficult. It’s actually not all that time-consuming either, if you skip making the broth like I do here (a good homemade beef broth will take about 12 hours), opting for a high quality store-bought one instead. The real trick is how you cook the onions: slow and steady to achieve a lovely caramelization. That’s what gives you the irresistible flavor and richness that this soup is known for. Topped with crispy croutons and perfectly melted Gruyère, and you have a true culinary masterpiece that makes all those cold winter nights tolerable. In the height of the holidays and the busy baking season, this soup brings me comfort and needed serenity and for that I’m thankful.
Classic French Onion Soup
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 tablespoons dry sherry
- 2 quarts good quality rich beef stock
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- fresh baguette, sliced 1/4-inch thick, brushed with olive oil and lightly toasted
- 1 bouquet garni consisting of 2 bay leaves, 4 fresh thyme sprigs, 4 juniper berries tied in a cheesecloth
- 4 cups shredded Gruyère cheese
- Step 1 In a large Dutch oven add the butter and place over medium heat. When melted, add the sliced onions. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions have softened, about 10 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring often, until the onions turn a lightly golden color, about 35 minutes.
- Step 2 Once the onions have browned, add the sherry to deglaze the pan loosening up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the beef stock and bouquet garni and bring the soup to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer about 30 minutes.
- Step 3 Turn the oven onto broil. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Remove the bouquet garni from the soup, season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- Step 4 Ladle the soup into 4-6 deep oven-safe bowls. Place two toasted bread slices in each soup bowl. Top generously with grated cheese. Place the soup bowls on the prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven and watching closely, lightly broil until the cheese melts and begins to brown, about 2-5 minutes. Serve immediately.