French onion soup is an absolute classic, suited to being served as a starter or main course. While Romans and Greeks are said to have enjoyed a type of onion soup, common in the ‘Old World’, synonymous with poorer people and used in many recipes, the typical French recipe is a direct descendent of the modern French bouillon, crafted in the 17th century. The dish also saw a huge resurgence during the 1960s, as French cuisine became popular in the United States. French onion soup is said to have been introduced to the US by Henri Mouquin’s New York restaurant, where his wife, Marie Julie Grandjean Mouquin, was the chef.
Generally based with a meat stock and slow-cooked onions, modern French onion soup recipes vary greatly, with a growing number of ‘English onion soup’ recipes becoming available. Typically, the dish uses yellow onions, beef stock, and white wine, brandy, or sherry. In addition to the onions, the cheese topping is the most important aspect. Some recipes call for the dish to be crowned with melted cheese-topped croutons, while others are served gratinéed – topped with cheese and baked or grilled.
Over the past 400 years, however, the original recipe has seen plenty of variations, given the soup’s adaptable nature. Different onions are used – or a mix of several varieties; beef stock is replaced for chicken stock, vegetable stock, or even water; or the typical gruyère or comté cheeses are substituted. This French onion soup recipe isn’t necessarily traditional or authentic, but it lovingly celebrates most of the original elements.
Typical recipes us just yellow, but a mixture can be used. For something different, try a combination yellow onions, white onions, Spanish onions, shallots, and a red onion.
White wine can be substituted for sherry, port, Madeira, brandy, or even a mixture of each.
Instead of using croutons, you can transfer the soup to bowls then top with cheese before finishing under the grill for a minute or two, until golden and melted.
French onion soup is traditionally served in a deep bowl, but if you’re keen on having more croutons, serve in a shallow bowl with greater surface area.
French onion soup recipe
- 100 g butter
- 1 kg onions thinly sliced (see notes)
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 200 ml white wine
- 100 ml dry sherry/port
- 1.5 litres beef stock
- Baguette cut into 1-2cm slices.
- 1 clove garlic
- 200 g gruyère or comté grated
- Cooking oil
- Freshly-ground black pepper
- Melt the butter and a splash of cooking oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan.
- Add the onions sauté over a low heat for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until completely caramelised and jammy.
- Add the flour to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and stir well. Cook until the smell of raw flour dissipates and the flour is incorporated with the onions.
- Slowly add the wine and sherry to deglaze the pan. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until the liquid has reduced by around two-thirds.
- Pour in the beef stock and bring to a boil. Season generously with pepper. Simmer for 20 mins, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add salt if need be.
- While the soup is cooking, prepare your croutons. Place the baguette slices under a grill for 1 minute, or until lightly golden. Peel the garlic clove, then rub over the lightly toasted baguette slices. Top each slice with a generous handful of cheese and place under the grill for another 2 minutes, or until melted and lightly charred.
- To serve, portion the soup into bowls, then top with the cheese croutons.
- Typical recipes us just yellow, but a mixture can be used. For something different, try a combination yellow onions, white onions, Spanish onions, shallots, and a red onion.
- White wine can be substituted for sherry, port, Madeira, brandy, or even a mixture of each.
- Instead of using croutons, you can transfer the soup to bowls then top with cheese before finishing under the grill for a minute or two, until golden and melted.
- French onion soup is traditionally served in a deep bowl, but if you’re keen on having more croutons, serve the soup in a shallow bowl with greater surface area.