Sweet, savory and salty: French onion soup

Photo of French Onion Soup
Abhi Varma/Staff

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French onion soup is a well-balanced dish. Caramelized onions are sweet, beef broth is savory and rich and toasted bread topped with broiled cheese offers a crunchy textural contrast with a hit of saltiness. I went all-out for this iteration of the classic recipe and made my own beef stock from scratch, but even if you decide to use store-bought, there are a few ways to amp it up. Although this soup traditionally requires oven-safe bowls to top each serving with melted cheese, in this recipe that step is modified to make it more accessible for home cooks. 

Ingredients

  • 4-5 pounds yellow onions 
  • 4-5 quarts high-quality beef stock
  • Sliced sourdough bread
  • Gruyere cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Dry sherry or white wine
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

French onion soup

  1. Slice onions in half from root to tip, and then cut off the roots and the tips. Peel the onions, remove the stem and then thinly slice them in the root to tip direction. I’d recommend following along with Babish’s video on this step for a visual aid.
  2. Thinly coat the bottom of a large pot with equal amounts of olive oil and butter.
  3. Add all the onions, plus a sprinkle of salt (which helps draw out moisture), to the pot.
  4. Gently stir the onions to evenly coat them, and then caramelize them over medium heat for however long it takes for them to become soft, jammy and deeply golden brown. Near the end, the onions will be delicate and there will be a lot of fond (the brown bits of onion on the bottom of the pot) so be gentle with the onions and aggressively scrape up the fond so it doesn’t burn. 
  5. Add a generous few turns of sherry or white wine to deglaze the fond.
  6. Add the beef stock and gently stir, taking care to incorporate any fond that you weren’t able to deglaze with the sherry or wine. If you’re using store-bought beef stock, simmer it with some parsley, a few cloves of garlic, a slice or two of carrots, some peppercorns and ideally a Parmesan cheese rind beforehand.
  7. Drop in a bundle of thyme and parsley that have been tied together.
  8. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes.
  9. Taste, and season very generously with salt and pepper. You will need a lot of salt to offset the sweetness of all those onions

Bread and cheese topping

  1. Preheat an oven to 425°F and toast bread for 5 to 7 minutes until crisp but not browned.
  2. Top the bread with as much grated gruyere cheese as desired and return to the oven for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Place a piece of bread and cheese atop each bowl of soup, and serve.

Expect to devote some time to this dish as caramelizing onions takes longer than you’d think. French onion soup is great for serving family-style for a large group of people. Pat yourself on the back for sticking it out through this pretty laborious recipe, and enjoy the incredible results of your work!

Contact Abhi Varma at [email protected].