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Les Halles French Onion Soup

I made this recipe the other day (it had been posted on chow) and it took A LOT longer than expected. The recipe said that the onions should take about 20 minutes to soften and brown...it took me about an hour. Has anyone else encountered this? Did I do something wrong? (The soup was delicious, by the way, just took forever to make.)

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  1. I have made a couple french onion soups and the onions typically take 90ish minutes to soften and brown - basically forever. Taking the time to brown the onions is the secret to great onion soup, imho. I think the 20 minutes might have been a misprint (maybe they.

    3 Replies
    1. re: orangewasabi

      Hmmm ... I made some from the Balthazar recipe the other day and it took about 40 minutes - recipe says 30. It also said that they should turn golden, not brown though.

      1. re: MMRuth

        I've never tried to make the 'golden' version -- have always gone for the dark carmelised brown. Not something I make when I am hungry right away :-)

      2. re: orangewasabi

        Most of the onion soup recipes I've seen call for approx 20 minutes to brown the onions. It does take more like 90 minutes - even though I think it's fun so it doesn't bother me...but definitely not 20 minutes.

      3. I know it says about 20 minutes but I have found 40+ minutes is more like it. Those onions need low slow heat. You canot rush them and the sugar content of your onions is going to make a difference too. The sweeter the onion is the better it caramelizes.

        1. Fell into the same trap the first time I made onion soup. I thought I would be done in under an hour, soup to nuts (oops soup only) but it took waaaaay longer and the onions were the main culprit.

          I now allocate 45-60 minutes for the proper slow browning as this will make or break the dish.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jfood

            almost 4 years after jfood made this statement he has learned that 45-60 is good, but to get really good you need closer to three hours. It could be that he now use 6-8 pounds per batch but it takes 1 hour to eliminate the water and then another 1-2 to get a nice deep and slow caramelize.

          2. Put them with a small amount of olive oil (no broth) in your slow cooker on low, and then go do something for 4 or 5 hours. Really carmelizes them nicely.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rdesmond

              I had a recipe using only a small splash of balsamic vinegar for a tad of additional moisture and they came out beautifully!

            2. Thanks for all the feedback. Sounds like it wasn't me, it was the recipe.

              1. Use a bigger pan or higher temps. 90 minutes is way too long.

                Don't overfill you pan either. There is a lot of water locked up in a raw onion that needs to be chased away before the sugars can caramelize.

                I caramelized onion for a pizza in @20 minutes Monday night. I bet you have to little direct heat present for the amount of food you are cooking.

                1. I use a large deep saute pan and stir it often with butter and oil, truning the onions. I cut the onions in thin slices, yes 90 minutes does sound like quite awhile. Glad your soup turned out well. But 20 minutes does not sound long enough to develop the carmel,and remove the "Bite" raw onion can bring to an onion soup rushed..

                  1. I carmelize onions in a roasting pan in a 350°F oven. I'm often doing about 6 pounds of onions at a time for Pissaladiere--way too many for a skillet. And although it takes about 2 hours, you don't have to pay much attention to them. I turn them with tongs about every half an hour and that's it.

                    26 Replies
                      1. re: JoanN

                        that's a serious time/effort saver -- are you putting any liquid at all in there? salt?

                        1. re: orangewasabi

                          As I said, I do them most often for Pissaladiere so I'm flavoring with that in mind. For six pounds of thinly sliced onions, I'll put about a half stick of butter in the bottom of the roasting pan, melt it in the oven, and then layer the onions with about 6 sprigs each of fresh thyme and rosemary and a couple of bay leaves, and sprinkle with S&P. I'm sure you could eliminate the herbs and substitute EVOO for the butter if that would be more appropriate for the dish you're preparing.

                          1. re: JoanN

                            JoanN, just wanted to report back. I tried your oven roasted method recently and it was just brilliant!

                            It takes no time at all to cut up the onions and toss em on the tray. Shove em in the oven and let it go. Could not be easier.

                            It's definately a technique where it's not just painless, it's desirable to do a large quantity. The onions at the very edge got a bit dark brown, even tossing every 30 minutes (I was doing 3 lbs). I think it's ideal if the onions are at least an inch deep all over the tray.

                            Thanks much,

                            1. re: orangewasabi

                              I'm so pleased you tried it and reported back. I don't have a slow cooker so that's not an option for me. This method is so easy and works so well, I'm surprised the technique isn't more widely promulgated.

                              1. re: JoanN

                                Oh, thank heavens, I have been looking for a better way to do it. I will be trying this tonite and will try to remember to report back.

                                1. re: NYChristopher

                                  I saw this method in a Bon Appetit I was reading in a doctor's waiting room nearly 10 years ago and have been making caramelized onions this way ever since. It's so easy, and it makes so much sense. I simply don't understand why it's not more widely known. Perhaps it doesn't work as well with a lesser amount? Although in that instance, you could always use a smaller pan.

                                  Hope it works as well for you as it does for me. I'll never again caramelize onions any other way.

                                  1. re: JoanN

                                    Sorry I didn't reply earlier. I have now used this several times and while I am missing something (hard to say what, precisely) I must say this is the best technique I have used so far. I suspect that what I have had in some restaurants was not just onion and butter with salt and pepper but perhaps something else (I sense perhaps balsamic vinegar may be used sparingly). In any event, I imagine I will be using this technique from here to eternity.

                                    FOR THOSE WONDERING: I used 2 tsp butter per pound of onions and tossed the onions at 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, 105 minutes before removing at 120 minutes.

                        2. re: JoanN

                          yum - pissaladiere!!!!!!!
                          do you have a recipe on hand?

                          1. re: lollya

                            I make pissaladiere with a pate brisee crust in a jelly roll pan. Any pate brisee recipe will do, but fyi I find that I need about 1.5X a two-crust tart recipe to fill the pan. I usually blind bake the crust at least partially just to keep it crispy. The preparation of the onions is as noted above: For six pounds of thinly sliced onions, I'll put about a half stick of butter in the bottom of a roasting pan, melt it in the oven, and then layer the onions with about 6 sprigs each of fresh thyme and rosemary and a couple of bay leaves, and sprinkle with S&P. Place in a preheated 350°F oven and toss with tongs every half hour for a total of about two hours. Increase oven to 475°F. Remove the twigs and bay leaves from the onions, spread them on the crust, and top with about 20 anchovies and 20 pitted, oil-cured olives. Bake about 15 minutes. I usually place the pan on my pizza stone, also in the interest of a crispy bottom. I sometimes sprinkle the finished pissaladiere with additional chopped thyme.

                            The onions can be done a day or two before. They keep very well in the fridge. Just bring them to room temp before putting them in the tart shell.

                          2. re: JoanN

                            I hereby announce that JoanN has been awarded the Nobel Prize of Carmelized Onions. The committee will be calling her soon and arranging the delivery of 20lbs of butter and 80 lbs of onions. This is so easy, and the results are excellent! Thank you for promoting this terrific method.

                            1. re: smtucker

                              Just the messenger here. But if someone would help me slice those onions, I figure that’s Pissaladiere for about 150. What date would work for you?

                              1. re: JoanN

                                Wondering - I have many too many onions in my closet - so I am going to try what sounds like this fantastic method to carmelize them. My question - since I love them for many different things when I have them available - how long do they keep in the fridge??

                                1. re: smilingal

                                  I've kept them up to a couple of weeks. I understand they freeze well, too.

                                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                                    thinking of making them today - but I will be needing a bunch for Thanksgiving - will they keep till then?

                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                      so sad that a 3lb bag only yields one pint of the gold!

                                    2. re: smilingal

                                      Haven't paid careful attention to how long they keep in the fridge because they freeze very well. If I have leftovers, I toss double-serving portions into the freezer where I've had them last for at least six months.

                                      1. re: JoanN

                                        ok - thanks the oven is preheating now!

                                        1. re: smilingal

                                          as they are doing their thing in the oven - my only concern is that it seems those around the edges are getting too crispy and brown - and I have been tossing them every 30 minutes - wondering if I should be adding a bit of water. I am only doing 3 lbs this time to try it out!

                                          1. re: smilingal

                                            orangewasabi (see post above) had the same experience when she did only three pounds. Afraid I can't suggest a solution since I've never done fewer than 6 pounds. S/he thought perhaps a smaller pan might be the answer--but I guess it's too late for you now. Perhaps worth trying next time--if, that is, you decide you like the method at all.

                                            1. re: JoanN

                                              I turn the heat down a bit if it starts browning early. You end up cooking a bit longer but it still comes out tasting great.

                                              I did try it with olive oil instead of butter and did not like it at all. There was a kind of bitter aftertaste. Maybe the olive oil is just not very good, but I haven't noticed it messing up anything else. At any rate I stick with butter now.

                                              1. re: JoanN

                                                yes, I absolutely will be making them this way in the future - so easy - just tossed every 30 minutes - and I DO think a smaller pan will make the difference as well.
                                                We enjoyed them with lunch and now have this pint size container of gold in my fridge - to save! :)

                                      2. re: JoanN

                                        Use Cuisinart food processor. .it's a breeze to cut onions in slices

                                      3. re: smtucker

                                        I concur. I'm on my 4th batch since Joan pointed this method out to me. My greatest regrets are that there was an onion blight last season so onions now cost 2 or 3 times what they used to, and that Costco is not stocking the 50 lb bag of onions for $11.54 in my area, and I must be satisfied with the 10 lb bag for $4.96. Still that beats $6 for 3 lbs at Kroger.

                                        /me saaaaaad . . . .

                                      4. re: JoanN

                                        Joan, you are my hero. This is such a great method. I do up 10 lb. of onions and freeze in ~1/4 C patties. Just have to label clearly so no-one mistakes them for oatmeal cookies. Now I can have french onion soup or add caramelized onions to pizza or other dishes in a snap!

                                      5. I use an electric frying pan....but really like the crockpot idea.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: kitchenhag

                                          Love to make French onion soup. It just a matter of patience for the onions to carmelize. Use sweet onion this time.

                                        2. Hi there, I'm trying to perfect my method of carmelizing onions and wonder what folks here think of what I've come up with. I have a real problem slicing onions, it really irritates my eyes, so I use the technique of soaking the onion halves in several changes of cold water the night before (in the refrigerator). That works great, really cuts down on the irritation, however, it adds moisture to the onions, which is the last thing you want. So after I slice them, I put a modest amount of salt on them, toss, and let them drain in a colander for an hour or two, tossing periodically. I was able to get a cup of liquid out of 4 or 5 onions this way.

                                          Didn't notice any difference in taste of the final product, but getting the water out of them on the stove before putting them in the oven sure went quicker (though I'm going to try JoanN's oven method next time) than the last time, when I didn't salt and wilt them before cooking. Anyone have any thoughts on whether the water / salting method is good or bad?

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: SiameseCats

                                            I think you will LOVE LOVE LOVE JoanN's method. With this method, you don't care that there is more water in the onions will only mean they spend a bit more unattended time in the oven. I am surprised that you can't taste the salt. I might try this some day. My only thought is a V-slicer might help with the eyes watering.

                                            1. re: smtucker

                                              Its not THAT much salt, and what I did was remove the salt I would have added at another point in the recipe, and put it in earlier instead, so I compensated for it, pretty much. The recipe that I started with that my family just loves is a little sweet for my taste, so I've been fiddling with it anyway to get it the way I want.

                                            2. re: SiameseCats

                                              Try wearing swim goggles when you slice the onions. My mother was terribly sensitive also and used to wear a mask and snorkel when she had to cut up or chop a lot of onions. Turned out the snorkel part was not necessary, but wearing the mask worked. It will save you time and you won't have to worry about the onions being oversalted.

                                              1. re: JoanN

                                                Yeah, I thought of that, was looking for the clear goggles I use with my jigsaw, but couldn't find them. Maybe next time.

                                            3. Use sweet onions not cooking onions. Steam the onions first. This will reduce the time significanly.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Puffin3

                                                You've actually given me an idea. I was planning on adapting the recipe for my pressure cooker, and I think I may steam the onions in the pressure cooker. This is how I make mashed potatoes, I steam russets in the PC, really takes a lot of the water out of them, then I add hot milk and butter to the steaming hot potatoes, and they suck up more of the milk than you would think possible. (About 2 cups of milk for 5 lbs. of potatoes) I don't have to add much water to the PC, and it even seems to even evaporate some out of the potatoes, so I bet it would do the same for onions as well. Hmmm. Going to have to do some experimentation with various permutations. Thanks to everyone for the input! ;D

                                                1. re: SiameseCats

                                                  Onions very quickly turn to mush in the pressure cooker.

                                                  However, you can make intense, caramelized onion stock very quickly and easily in the pressure cooker. I explain how here:

                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    Oh no, I didn't intend to try to take the onions to carmelization in the pressure cooker, or to disintegrate them, just enough to purge a good portion of the water out of them.

                                                    After soaking the onions in several changes of water overnight, I sliced them very thinly, then put them in my electric pressure cooker on high (10 PSI) with 1/4 c. of water (just to make sure it had enough water to bring the unit up to pressure before it started sweating moisture out of the onions) for about 3 minutes. This was enough to wilt them, and get them to the translucent stage, as well as pull a lot of water out of them. I then strained and separated the onions and water. I haven't measured it yet, but it looks like I got 3 cups of onion water out of 5 large onions.

                                                    I saved the onion water, and am planning on reducing it down to 1/3 or maybe less of its original volume, then adding it back to the broth for added onion flavor.

                                              2. I made a pot of onion soup a couple of weeks ago and it took well over an hour until the onions (about 3 pounds) were sufficiently caramelized. The process really can't be rushed or the onions will burn. And if you don't cook them long enough, you'll end up with a less flavorful soup.

                                                By the way, I slice my onions pole-to-pole, not too thin. I really do believe they hold more of their "substance" when they're sliced that way. I'd say, on average, a medium onion would be sliced into 8-10 "wedges". Then I separate the layers when I stir them as they cook.

                                                1. Just wondering. Which way did you slice the onions? Not that that would make a bit of difference to the cooking time. I'm interested in the 'look' of the onions in the soup. Length ways or cross ways or both?
                                                  I don't care for the look of long stringy onions and they are harder to eat 'gracefully' IMO.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                                    I'm not sure why this is, but I really believe that the way you slice the onions does matter. When I make onion soup I always slice them pole-to-pole rather than parallel to the "equator." I think they hold up much better that way. In fact, whenever I cook with onions I slice them in that direction.

                                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                                      Yeah me too. The long stringy look doesn't appeal.

                                                  2. This thread got me inspired to pick up beef bones for beefy reduced onion stock. Holy #!*^, what happened to the prices for oxtail and short ribs??? And, believe it or not, my Wholefoods had oxtails cheaper than H Mart! Dang, I have to check our downtown, urban (historical, gritty, cheaper, lots of wholesalers) market this weekend to see if the wholesale/retail guys have better prices.