French Onion Soup

Monday 2 January 2017

I can still remember the very first time I tasted French Onion Soup.  It was when I had been married for the first time.   My husband and I were students at a University back home.  We had a pair of friends who were very modern and living together, a very much unheard of thing back in those days in the bible-belt of Canada.  (I know I am dating myself here.) 

Julia, the female half of that companionship was very exotic to me.  Not only was she from a large city . . .  Montreal, but she had a quasi British accent, wore halter tops and ankle bracelets and was a budding feminist.   None of which I had ever experienced thus far in my somewhat sheltered 20 years of life.

She loved to cook and she had money to cook with.  I loved to cook also, but couldn't afford to really explore much on our very limited student income.  One night they invited us to a dinner party . . .  something else which I had ever experienced.  The starter she served was . . .  French Onion Soup . . . another first for me, and it was delicious.  I fell in love with the soup and everything else that was served and I wanted to be just like Julia.

My next experience with French Onion Soup was during the early days of my second marriage, at a chain restaurant in Winnipeg Manitoba.  The soup itself was quite delicious but there was so much cheese in it, that it became cloying and overwhelming . . . so much so that you risked gagging and choking when you were trying to eat it.   Not good. This was not the soup of Julia . . .

After that I made it my mission to create a French Onion Soup that was entirely reminiscent of Julia's . . .  filled with onion flavour, with just the right amount of cheese and toast . . .  this soup I am showing you today is the result of years and years of experimentation and I think it is quite supposedly one of the best French Onion Soups out there. 

The secret is a very well flavoured beef stock . . .  and richly browned onions to begin with.  You want them almost caramelized, but not burnt.  There is a trick to getting them just right.  Don't be in a rush.  Long slow cooking until they are soft and golden brown is your reward for patience and is the secret to it's rich onion flavour. 

A hint of thyme and bay, a touch of dry sherry, garlic rubbed toasts and just the right amount of cheese complete what is a very tasty bowl of soup.

*French Onion Soup*
Serves 4
The delicious culmination of years of experimentation, trial and error.  This is what works for me. 

4 to 5 large brown onions, peeled and cut into half moons (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 TBS butter
1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
1 TBS plain flour
1 1/2 litres good quality well flavoured beef stock, (6 cups)
1 bay leaf, broken in half
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 TBS dry sherry
salt and black pepper to taste
4 thick slices of day old French Baguette
1 garlic clove, cut in half
2 TBS finely freshly grated parmesan cheese
115g of freshly grated Gruyere Cheese 

Peel the onions, cut in half lengthwise and then cut into thin half moons crosswise, discarding the root ends. Melt the butter over moderate heat until just beginning to foam in a large heavily bottomed saucepan.  Add the onions and coarse black pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently until softened, reduce the heat to low and then cook for about half an hour until dark golden brown, stirring occasionally.  Do not let burn.  Sprinkle the flour over top.  Cook and stir until all traces of the flour disappear.  Cook for a minute longer.  (Note - I use a wooden spoon.  Metal can give an odd flavour to the onions)  Gradually stir in the beef broth, stirring constantly.  Add the  bayleaf and sprig of thyme.  Cook, on low, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes. 

Heat the grill/broiler to high.  Taste the soup and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Remove the bayleaf and thyme.  Add the sherry and cook the alcohol off while you make the cheese toasts. 

Toast the baguette slices. Rub one side of each with the cut side of the garlic.  Ladle the soup into oven proof soup bowls.  Float a toast on top.  Mix together the Parmesan and gruyere cheeses and divide between each bowl, sprinkling on top of the toasts liberally. 

Place beneath the grill and broil until the cheese melts and turns golden brown.  Serve immediately.  Alternately you may place the bowls of soup onto a baking tray,  float the toasts and cheese on top and bake in a preheated 225*C/425*F/ gas mark 7 oven until golden.

I  often find myself wondering whatever happened to Julia.  I think it would be really interesting to find out what she did next.  Unfortunately I can't remember what her last name was.  Oh well . . .  whatever happened I am sure she was a great success at it!  She certainly left her mark on me.  Bon Appetit!


  1. A keeper for sure. I've never made or eaten this soup but always wanted to. It is perfect for these cold days when we don't want any more meat. I'll give it a shot. All the ingredients are in the house this substitutions!

    1. How lovely Linda! I hope you like it! I am a big fan of it, but you can probably tell that! xo

  2. Ha substitutes! Well just slight alterations. Different cheese, bread and dark red wine instead of sherry. Lol

    1. haha Linda, let me know how you get on! xo PS = brandy or cognac is a good substitute for the sherry.

  3. Perfect! I was thinking of this very dish last night, having a couple of loaves of French Bread (one meant for Swiss Fondue). My parents had this when I was a kid, and every once in a while I'd get to have some too. I'll take your instructions to heart, and compare the recipe with the one my mom would have used...

    1. Happy New Year Anne, daughter of my heart! I am sure your mom's recipe is excellent! Love you my sweet DIL! xo

  4. This is one of my all time faves.. meal in itself..I make mine just like yours..omitting the nutmeg..I never knew:)
    Fred makes a super good one also..we recently..well 2 yrs went to a resto for lunch that I used to love..exactly what you much rubbery cheese and salt..yuck...they changed the recipe because it used to be good..must make one maybe this week..cottage pies today;)

    1. I am sure you make a beautiful French Onion Soup Monique! Right now you are making me crave Cottage Pie, yours always looks so good. The nutmeg just adds a special touch of something you can't put your finger on. Unami I think it is called! In any case it is very good! I hate too much cheese. It is rubbery and choking. Too many places try to cut corners and use mozarella, not right at all. You need a nice Gruyere, Compte or Emmenthaler! Oh and that smidgen of Parmesan. xo

  5. I used to make this when I worked in a dining room. We used white wine, but I think sherry or a red would be divine. I just made (and ate) chowder, so I guess FOS is next on the menu. ;)

    1. Love you son! You are a great cook. I still drool when I remember the cassoulet you made for us when we visited! Mmmm . . . chowder. Wish you were here to cook for me! xoxo

  6. I love french onion soup, I used to make it when I was a student and lived in a shared flat. X

    1. Its a great recipe for students Emma. Its simple and so delicious! xo

  7. I love French Onion Soup and have used Julia Child's recipe for years. I will give yours a try, we are expecting COLD weather soon so the soup will be perfect. I no longer use any alcohol, so I will have to eliminate the sherry. Happy New Year!!!


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