HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


French Onion Soup - Keller recipe

Has anyone tried the Onion Soup recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook? I want to make this soup, but the idea of caramelizing the onions for FIVE HOURS seems excessive. As a budding home chef, I am frequently encountering dogmatic instructions for recipes that involve huge expenses of time, i.e. simmering polenta for three hours, hand-rolling pasta, cooking chicken broth for four hours. Believe me, I am all for going to any length to produce the ultimate dish, but if someone out there has tried the five-hour version vs. a normal 30-minute onion caramelization, I'd love to know your results.

By the way, I tried 20 minute polenta vs. one and a half hours, and the longer one truly was very creamy and delicious. Have not rolled pasta by hand and probably will not do so!!! I've cooked chicken broth in 40 minutes and 4 hours... but am still not sure which is best. So many opinions on broth!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I am very familiar with the Bouchon FOS, and while I will tell you that the longer caramelization of the onions will make a big difference, I will agree that sometimes one just can't wait that long for soup. Here's what I suggest:

    Place the onions, butter and salt into a heavy stockpot over medium heat as instructed in the original recipe, but place a lid on the pot and allow the onions to cook for about 30 minutes, stirring about ever 10 minutes, until the onions are very soft and have released a lot of liquid. Remove the lid and raise the heat to medium high. Add about 1 tbsp sugar (to initiate carmelization). Cook until almost all of the liquid has been reduced, then stir constantly until you see and smell caramelization beginning. Turn heat to low and stir constantly until onions are a nice deep brown caramel. Be very careful to not burn the onions, and keep some water nearby to arrest caramelization if necessary.

    14 Replies
    1. re: Non Cognomina

      That is very helpful. Thank you, and I will try your approach.

      1. re: jono37

        There was also a pretty neat recipe in the NYT Magazine this week:


        1. re: melon

          We're having this for dinner tonight -- it's in the oven right now, and smells wonderful!

          1. re: pikawicca

            What did you think of this? It sounds amazing.

            1. re: c oliver

              We loved it! I'd forgotten all about it. I'll have to make this again when the weather cools off.

              1. re: pikawicca

                OMG, I hadn't noticed how old this was!!! Something else I dislike about the new release. Latest topics aren't new. Do you used canned tomatoes or canned tomato puree? It's never too warm here for this kind of dish.

                1. re: c oliver

                  If memory serves (and it might not, you know), I used the puree.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    Well, you're younger than I am, so I'm gonna trust you. I read the recipe to Bob and he was laughing about how good it sounds.

          2. re: melon

            We made this last night and it was very good. Different from our normal FOS. The tomato puree gives the "soup" a little bit of a sweet taste. Recipe is a keeper.

            1. re: Pampatz

              That looks fantastic -- did you puree your own tomatoes? Any modifications you'd suggest? I think I'll try that tomorrow night. I've made Giada's French Onion Soup -- quick and very, very easy. But I was bored the second time I made it, so I'd like to try this one from the NYT magazine... well, from 1907, right?! I can't wait to serve this one -- "thick golden crust" sounds amazing!

        2. re: Non Cognomina

          Does anyone know how much stock to use for this recipe? In his book, TK just lists "beef stock" ... the recipe he gives makes 3.5 quarts-- does this mean to use the entire 3.5 quarts and then reduce? If anyone knows for sure please let me know. Thanks!

          1. re: agavesupreme

            I am wondering this myself, does anyone know?

            1. re: agavesupreme

              Wow, I never even noticed that. I would assume 6-8 cups like most of the other soup recipes in the book.

            2. re: Non Cognomina

              Five hours is a long time. the Cooks Illustrated version, where you carmilize in the oven three or four times. comes out great. Thomas Kelller has so much labor out there and charges so much, he can take that long.

            3. Is the issue the elapsed time or having to watch it?

              I used the oven method mentioned on this board in the past -- it does take 2+ hours but it's in the oven, so I just do other stuff while waiting. The longer carmelization does make a difference, IMHO.

                1. Last time I made onion soup, I carmelized the onions for 1 hour. It was fabulous. Maybe 1 hour is a happy compromise?

                  1. I would trust that Thomas Keller has a particular goal in mind when giving the instructions. He is not just giving the instructions for "an onion soup", but is giving the instructions for the soup as it is made at Bouchoun. He has a reputation of being exacting for particular results and his books have good reputations.

                    I'd say for "an onion soup" to go ahead and caramelize the onions for any amount of time that you like. That said, I really doubt that you can get a decent carmelization on a large pile of onions in 30 minutes. I just did 3 jumbo onions yesterday and it took 30 minutes just to the point where they were hot and finishing throwing off the liquid. I guess I cooked them 2-1/2 hours in all. I could have gone longer but I wanted to get dinner on. Does the Keller recipe call for 8 large onions? And doesn't he explain at all why the long caramelization?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: coconutz

                      I haven't had a chance to look back at the recipe, but I'm guessing that Keller is trying to encourage very, very slow caramelization to bring out of the maximum flavor, and promote the most even caramelization. Perhaps one could consider the Keller recipe more suitable for a restaurant, given the long prep time and the quantity of ingredient being prepared. I'm fairly ambitious with my home cooking, but have too many time constraints to indulge in some of the longer and more labor intensive recipes which I come across. I do love french onion soup, though, and will definitely be trying the slow cooker method tonight. I'll report back!!

                      1. re: jono37

                        One question on slow cooker onion caramelization: Has anyone succeeded in getting the onions nice and dry after they are cooked so they could be used in salads or on pizza? After draining in a colander, what would be the best way to dry them? Under the broiler? Roasted in the oven? Toasted in a skillet?

                        1. re: jono37

                          Are you trying to get them crispy, or just dry them out?

                          1. re: Non Cognomina

                            I'd settle for drying them, but crispy would be nice too

                            1. re: jono37

                              I would suggest a few things. First, do the caramelization without fat (butter). To dry them out, spread them over several layers of paper towels after they are cooled. Change the paper towels if necessary to absorb as much moisture as possible. They'll get fairly dry, but not crisp.

                              For really a really crispy result, dry the caramelized onions as described above. Toss with a very little bit of cornstarch, then deep fry them. They will fry quickly--you only need a few seconds (10-20). Drain on a rack. Delish.

                    2. Last night I made the onion soup from this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine -- the article was written by Amanda Hesser, and the recipe is based on an old French method. Rarely do I follow a recipe to the letter, but I did this time and it was utterly fantastic. No broth or wine -- only water, and no carmelizing the onions -- only a brief stovetop sauteeing. It is a layered soup, baked in the oven, almost like a cheese/onion/bread strata, but without milk or cream. Hugely recommended! And in this cold weather, could not have been more perfect.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: pitterpatter

                        So glad you posted a report on that recipe. I was wondering about it, but there was something about an onion soup with nothing but water that just turned me off. Especially after having made the ATK onion soup just days before and deciding that what really took it to another level was using a veal demi glace. I'll go back and take another look at the NYTimes recipe. You make it sound very tempting.

                        1. re: pitterpatter


                          that sounds worth a try. Which tomato puree did you use and do you think the recipe is sensitive to that choice?

                          Here's a link for anyone looking http://tinyurl.com/2o377t

                          1. re: orangewasabi

                            Actually, I used crushed tomatoes, because those are pretty much interchangeable with tomato sauce and I had them on hand. They were probably Progresso or Il Tutti -- whatever was on sale. And for the cheese, I used Jarlsberg, which was also on sale, as Emmenthaler is really not much more flavorful than any other supermarket swiss and costs more because it comes from Switzerland. I really could not believe how good this was using only water! Next time, I may try to make it even better with a demi-glace, but it doesn't need it to be good.

                        2. I made French onion soup for Valentines Day because my husband loves it... I didn't follow any particular recipe except to note that they tended to use beef stock and white wine. Since we don't drink I very slowly sauteed the onions for an hour in butter and olive oil, then I added beef stock (half home-made and half store-bought, because I hadn't made enough!) and I substituted two spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar and one spoon of balsamic for the wine. It was nice but I think it would have been nicer if I'd left it at ONE spoon of vinegar. But DH said it was fantastic!

                          1. So as much as I admire Thomas Keller, I love the onion soup recipe from the Les Halles Cookbook. I've been making it on New Year's Eve, the past couple of years, and I make it as comfort food. Relatively quick to make, short of the time it takes to properly carmelize onions.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: MIss G

                              I made the Julia Child recipe, except I placed the onion in the oven with some butter and olive oil to carmelized for 2 hours. Then proceeded with the recipe on top of the stove.

                            2. 2007: Savory Rice Grits Baked Soup
                              By Amaryll Schwertner, executive chef and an owner of Boulettes Larder in San Francisco

                              Coarse sea salt

                              4 cups Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice Grits, or other grits

                              4 to 6 cups chicken broth

                              8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

                              3 onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice

                              2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into 1/2-inch dice

                              Extra-virgin olive oil

                              8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, cut into 1/2-inch slices

                              1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

                              1 whole bird's-eye or Tuscan chili, ground coarsely

                              8 ounces fontina cheese, thinly sliced

                              16 dried tomato halves, rehydrated in warm water and coarsely chopped

                              2 2/3 cups cubed crustless country bread

                              1/3 cup finely chopped parsley

                              1 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

                              White truffle, for garnish, optional.

                              1. In a medium stockpot or other large pot, combine 4 1/2 quarts of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil and add the grits while stirring and sprinkling them into the water. Cook at a gentle boil for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the chicken broth and keep warm.

                              2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a sauté pan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and add the onions and leeks. Sauté until translucent and transfer to a bowl. Wipe the pan clean and add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and sauté until tender and caramelized; set aside. In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon sea salt, black pepper and chili; set aside.

                              3. In a deep, heatproof, 7- to 8-quart casserole, spread a third of the grits. Top with half each of the onion mixture, sliced cheese, tomato, mushrooms and salt mixture. Spread a layer of half of the remaining grits and all of the remaining onions, sliced cheese, tomato, mushrooms and salt mixture. Top with the remaining grits. Pour in enough of the hot stock to just cover the grits. Place a sheet of parchment paper directly on top of the grits, and cover the casserole with foil. Bake for 40 minutes.

                              4. Using a food processor, purée the bread with the remaining 4 tablespoons butter until finely ground. Add the parsley and pulse to combine; set aside.

                              5. Preheat a broiler or raise oven to 500 degrees. Remove the foil and parchment from the casserole. If the dish is dry, add enough broth so that the grits are very moist but not flooded. (The texture should be spoonable with a seeping stock and melted cheese.) Top with the bread crumbs and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Broil or bake until browned, about 5 minutes. To serve, spoon into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. If desired, garnish with sliced truffles. Serves 10.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: ellelala

                                Thought someone would appreciate the above recipe - this was available online only, but part of the Amanda Hesser article from the NYT Magazine Feb 11, 2007 (re:onion soup gratinee).
                                I want to make this tonight.

                                1. re: ellelala

                                  yum mmmmmmmmmm. thanks i am so going to make a veggie version of this elle!

                              2. Does anyone have this recipe, or a link? I tried the NYT link below, but couldn't find it. Thanks in advance!

                                1. I'm resurrecting this thread to see if jono37 ever tried making French onion soup using the Bouchon 5-hour method. I have the book out from the library now and have been craving FO soup, but my jaw dropped when I saw the FIVE hour caramelization process for this soup. The deep brown onions in the photo look rich and melty though. I doubt that I will use this exact recipe for my attempt, but just curious if anyone out there has??!

                                  I may have to try JoanN's easy method of oven-roasting:

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: Carb Lover

                                    I suppose you are aware of the crock pot method for the onions. You don't have to stand over them.

                                    1. re: yayadave

                                      Yes, I have heard of the crock pot method but I don't own one...

                                      1. re: Carb Lover

                                        Actually, I never got around to the 5-hour method; in fact I haven't made onion soup at all since posting. I have made caramelized onions for pizza and bread, but only with about 40 minutes of caramelization.

                                        I did try the crockpot method, which yielded wet, soupy onions - certainly not the real items!!! I don't think there is any way to dry them out that way, and I don't recommend the method at all unless very wet onions are what you are going for. I'm not an expert at food science, but I don't think you get the real browning/caramelization effect, i.e. Maillard reaction in a crockpot the way you do on a hot metal surface.

                                        good luck!!

                                        1. re: jono37

                                          Hey, thanks for your response. The crazy in me wants to try this 5-hour method just to see what it's about, but I don't know if I'm up for it. I'll def. report back if I take the plunge...

                                    2. re: Carb Lover

                                      Just made the 5 hour FOS, well actually about 4 1/2 carmelization time. I can attest that its well worth it. Was a great dish to do for a day when I knew we'd be snowed in. I made a couple of adjustments in adding a bit of dry white wine to the soup and using Gruyere instead of Comte.

                                      Don't know why, but the Comte I get here just doesn't melt and give me a nice crust.

                                      1. re: buspirone

                                        Great to hear that it was worth it! An ideal bad weather cooking project...

                                        I still haven't tried it but will keep it in mind for a rainy day. Thanks for reporting back.

                                        1. re: buspirone

                                          Made the soup exactly as the Bouchon cookbook prescribes...wonderful! 8 lbs of Vidalia onions sliced as Keller describes makes an enormous pile of onions that wouldn't fit into my largest Le Creuset dutch oven...nevertheless, by the end of it all I only had about a cup and 1/2 of carmelized goodness. Needless to say I burned the hell out of my mouth and couldn't taste a thing for about a week, but I can remember how wonderful the house smelled and how wonderful the soup was the day after and the day after...

                                          1. re: buspirone

                                            I have made the FOS in the past with the comte, emmanthaler and this time added about a T of gruyere to each crock and like the punch it gave it.

                                        2. I do several large pans of caramelized onions at a time (they freeze very well). Five hours is about right. I just plan it for a day when I'm going to be home writing or cleaning. I just pop into the kitchen once in a while and give them a stir. These things are a great secret weapon in many dishes. Freeze them in a thin layer in freezer bags, then break off a chunk to put into whatever.

                                          1. After failing the first few recipes for a "quick" onion soup, I turned to this site, and found a recipe by the poster jfood that hit the nail on the head.

                                            2.5-3 hours carmalizing. the right cheese and right bread, and of course the right bowls....and it was....perfect. yes...im smug enough to say that it was perfect. What I really think made it..was I made it the night before, and let it sit in the fridge overnight, then finished for the dinner party with the bread and cheese the next day.

                                            search here for jfoods recipe, and add a little worchestershire sauce, and a sprinkle of thyme, i think thats the only thing I did different.

                                            I've tried 30 minute onion soup and I've tried 3 hour......world of difference....world.

                                            FOS was really the first recipe I tried to master when I just recently started to cook, and it's really simple, just takes time, and the right ingredients. (so no crappy stock....at worst, get boxed organic, at best, make your own)

                                            1. I have made this soup every year at Xmas time for my kids. It is a whole day but is absolutely worthwhile. Until you caramelize onions for five hours and compare the difference you have no idea what you are missing. When you take the onions and place them in the stock, the flavor explodes like nothing you can imagine. You must then chose the right cheese and bread to cover the soup. It is a meal in itself but worth every second of the preperation!

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: cemanuel

                                                Hi all,
                                                I'm literally in the middle of making Thomas Keller's French Onion Soup and I'm in to my second hour of stewing the onions but I'm a little concerned that the water isn't reducing fast enough. I want to make sure the onions aren't boiling instead of beginning their caramelization process.
                                                Please help!

                                                1. re: cemanuel

                                                  hey! i made beef stock acording to the recipe of the cookbook bouchon. the resaut was very bland and watery.was it suppose to be watery bith in taste and in viscosity.
                                                  the simliar aspect of my result was color. if i caramelaize those onoins for 5 hours as tk described, could it be much amplified?

                                                2. Have you tried Julia Child's recipe? I've made it two or three times, and recall it taking about 45 minutes for the caramelizing - it did need almost constant attention - the end result was fabulous.

                                                  14 Replies
                                                  1. re: pasuga

                                                    Julia Child's is the only recipe I've ever used for onion soup, and it is fabulous, deep of flavor and gorgeous in appearance. Now, the effort to make pasta by hand is worth it to me -- incidentally, OP, it's stretched, not rolled -- but cook onions five hours for soup? I haven't read every comment here, but I can't think of any reason why the sugars in onion would require five hours to caramelize (unless you're making enough to feed an NFL team) when Julia's carefully watched 45-60 minutes brings the flavor and color to such a high peak.

                                                    A couple of questions for those who rave about Keller's recipe: Have you experimented with cooking the onions 1/4 or 1/2 the recommended time? If not, what basis do you have for saying five hours is necessary? Also: are you using a brown stock made from crusty, brown meats and vegetables? The Maillard reaction adds great color and flavor complexity to the soup and renders cooking the onions past the dark-brown caramelization stage (which takes 45-60 minutes) unnecessary.

                                                    1. re: Harry Niletti

                                                      I used JoanN's method of oven-carmelizing the onions and they came out really great, with almost no interference on my part.

                                                      I bought 6 lbs of onions last night, so I'll try it again, and I'll try Julia Child's recipe, which I do have. One advantage of oven-roasting the onions is it doesn't require nearly as much oil or butter. 1/4c for 3 onions is about 2x too much. The onions come out so good I end up having to slap myself to keep myself from eating them straight out of the pan, LOL!

                                                      When you make it, do you use chicken stock, beef stock, or some combination?

                                                      At least her recipe doesn't call for flour. Why would you put flour in FOS? Seems strange.

                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                        I don't want to reread all the replies here. Did someone mention flour?

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          I don't know, but I have probably 4 or 5 recipes that call for some flour. It seems an odd ingredient for this dish and I'm not sure what purpose it would serve.

                                                        2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                          Julia adds a small amount of flour to the onions to help with thickening the soup slightly. I've found that neither the flour nor the specified 1/4 tsp of sugar is strictly necessary.

                                                          Any soup that is mostly stock improves greatly when you use a top-quality version. I always use homemade brown stock, made with filtered water and oven-browned vegetables and meats (primarily beef but also a little veal).

                                                          1. re: Harry Niletti

                                                            This is the recipe I have:


                                                            No flour listed there, and that recipe calls for 1 tsp sugar (which I planned to skip anyway).

                                                            Maybe she had more than one recipe for FOS? Or maybe that's not really her recipe? I don't know, I have no "american type food" cookbooks and I've never used a Julia Child recipe.

                                                            OK, I went and looked up more recipes and there are at least 3 different versions claiming to be her recipe. They're all very similar except some call for red wine, some white, some either; and some mention the flour and some don't. Some say either beef or chicken stock and some call only for beef stock. One calls for both beef stock and beef boullion. Wine amounts vary considerably, from 1/2 c to 2 full cups!


                                                            However in this video:


                                                            they use chicken stock, red wine (looks like around 1/2c), no flour and no sugar.

                                                            I guess I'll try that.

                                                            1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                              I doubt that she ever used canned beef stock however.

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                Actually one of the recipes did call for canned beef boullion. Apparently that was the way the recipe was originally published in her first cookbook. I don't have the book so I can't say but that's what the person posting it claimed.

                                                                1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                  Would that be MTAOFC? And, of course, boullion is so much different than stock or broth. But I'd say if you're not happy with the overly beefy flavor, then why not use chicken?

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    I have MTAOFC in front of me. Her recipe calls for 2 quarts of brown stock [beef&veal] OR canned beef bouillon OR a combo of water and stock or bouillon. She uses white wine or vermouth - no red wine. I don't see any reason why one couldn't use a brown chicken stock in place of the "meat" stock.

                                                                    A cursory google search led me to this blog which follows the ingredient list and procedure fairly closely, though not exactly. It's his "adaptation" of her recipe.


                                                                    1. re: Jen76

                                                                      The video link listed above shows her pouring red wine into a chicken-stock based version of the soup. I'm going with what she did on the video because it seems most like what I've done in the past (dang lost recipes!).

                                                                      I remember this being a simple, easy dish, not a complicated thing with 4 different herbs and variations on the theme of beef stock. Most of all, onion soup should taste onion-y (CARMELIZED onion-y) and not like something you'd feed to a victim of consumption, LOL!

                                                                      They don't give quantities on the video but it's a simple recipe, basically you just add enough stock until it looks right. That I can handle. I'm actually more comfortable with it being a little bit seat of your pants.

                                                                      She doesn't talk about de-glazing in that video but it's simple to do with the roasting pan method, just pour some stock in there and it de-glazes pretty well.

                                                                  2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                    I referenced the 1978 edition of Vol. 1, and it does give canned beef bouillon as one option. When the book first came out in 1961, only the most serious home cooks made their own stock (and that's probably still true today). The recipe calls for 1/4 tsp of sugar and three tbsp of flour with 5 cups of sliced onions. Also, 1/2 c of white wine (or dry vermouth) and 3 tbsp of cognac. I've never made the dish with anything but rich homemade brown stock, but, if forced to use the canned stuff, I'd probably choose chicken stock, since canned beef stock usually has a strong flavor and aroma of caramel that would be more appropriate on (a dish of very weird) ice cream.

                                                                    1. re: Harry Niletti

                                                                      Yeah, I guess that would be very weird ice cream!

                                                                      I did find it very strong tasting and actually fairly unpleasant. I ended up throwing the rest of it out. What a waste of those beautiful carmelized onions!

                                                            2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                              That's 1/4 c for 3 POUNDS of onions is too much when caramelizing in the oven.

                                                              Weird, sometimes it lets me edit my posts and sometimes it doesn't.

                                                        3. i have all of my onions sitting on my counter waiting for me to make the cook's illustrated version tomorrow. i CAN'T WAIT!!!

                                                          1. I have made this several times and it is absolutely worth carmalizing the onions for the full five hours. I have made other recipes, used sugar to hasten process and it works. But, this for all the time it takes, is the best french onion soup I have ever had. If you have extra freezer space, make the stock ahead of time. And, the recipe even says it is best after a day. So, if you have time and space, you can make the soup the best it can be - and do it in steps.

                                                            1. Yes, I have been making this soup (exactly as directed in Bouchon) for a few weeks now. It's the only way I will make onion soup from now on.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: tzakiel

                                                                which recipe are you guys referring to? i'd love to try this version...

                                                              2. I just made this yesterday again and it was so good. I blogged about it:


                                                                11 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Mistral

                                                                    I've made both, yes. And Bourdain's. I like Keller's recipe the best and so do my wife and roommate who happily eat it every time.

                                                                  2. re: tzakiel

                                                                    OK, I LOVE french onion soup -

                                                                    but there is no way I'm going to waste a full day carmelizing onions.

                                                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                      Here's how to caramelize onions in the oven:


                                                                      I've posted about this method a number of times on the Home Cooking Board, quite a few people have tried it, and those who reported back were thrilled with how easy and how good it is.

                                                                      1. re: JoanN

                                                                        I've carmelized them in a crockpot as well, but the idea seems to be that you have to spend 6 hours carmelizing onions stovetop or you're not doing it "right". I can carmelize them stovetop in much less than six hours, but even that seems too long to me.

                                                                        I'll stick with shorter carmelizing techniques, such as yours. Life's too short to be tied to the stove for 6 hours, LOL!

                                                                        1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                          Life is too short to be tied to a stove for 6 hours if you believe that spending 6 hours of your life at the stove is a waste of time.

                                                                          For me, a day at the stove is a very special day. Life is so busy that finding a reason to slow down and spend it strirring onions is a beautiful thing.

                                                                          I dont care if you have a way that it can be done faster, to me its about the process and the end result. I love the fact that it takes 8 hours to make the onions for the soup. While Im doing this, I will also make something else, or a few other things....maybe get some Short Ribs in a braise, which will take a bit of time. After that, maybe make a huge batch of ravioli to freeze...all the while having movies on the TV or music playing, and of course Crown Floats going down the gullet.

                                                                          I have tried many different methods for carmelizing the onions for Onion Soup, and my favorite is the long way. Is this the best way? Hell yes it is, for me and mine it is. But its a process, and the finished product speaks to the work I put into it.

                                                                          Is my soup better than yours? In a blind taste test, who knows? Possibly not. But I will be extremely satisfied eating mine after the day preparing it. For a home cook, thats all I care about.

                                                                          1. re: RodVito

                                                                            As I said, I consider 6 hours spent carmelizing onions a waste of my time. I have better things to do than stand over a hot stove doing one thing.

                                                                            I frankly don't have the energy these days to spend 6 consecutive hours doing ANYTHING. I strongly doubt that the difference in taste exists or is discernible. I'm well satisfied with several different versions of French Onion soup which do not require me to spend an inordinate amount of time carmelizing onions.

                                                                            I don't so much mind oven roasting them - the chances of that burning because I fell asleep and the consequences thereof are much less than leaving them on the stove. I don't have my crockpot here so I can't carmelize them that way, but doing them in the oven could work for me.

                                                                            You do what you wish with your 6 hours, and I'll do as I please with mine. That should work out best for both of us. >:D

                                                                            1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                              I agree time is of the essence --- How do you do it in a crockpot?

                                                                              1. re: Mistral

                                                                                It's been awhile since the last time I did it - I cut up 2 or 3 lbs of onions, dumped them in the crockpot, dropped in a half stick of butter, turned the crock on high for about an hour or two, with the lid cracked, then turned it down to low, put the lid back on, and went to bed. When I got up in the morning I cracked the lid again if it was building up liquid, stirred a little if it looked like it needed it, and just kind of kept a weather eye on it until it looked and smelled done.

                                                                                No crockpot here so I'll switch to the oven method.

                                                                            2. re: RodVito

                                                                              Please let us know what a Crown Float is.

                                                                              1. re: margareta

                                                                                Sorry for the delayed response!!! A Crown Float is a beer glass filled about two thirds full of a Cider (typically Strongbow up here in Alberta), and topped off with Guiness. Amazing. Bittersweet perfection.

                                                                    2. Well, Joan, I tried your oven carmelization technique, and I have to say - I am WAY impressed!

                                                                      It smelled wonderful! They tasted even better! I was so EXCITED!

                                                                      Then I made some French onion soup, and it all came crashing down.

                                                                      I guess it was a bad recipe, I don't know, it sounded about the same as the usual run of FOS recipes. 2 qt beef stock, 1 c white wine, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp salt, bay leaves, thyme, Ummm, I think that was it. Well, the baguettes and cheese.

                                                                      It just wasn't that good. The beef stock was way too strong I think. I think in the past - it's been awhile and I don't remember the recipe I used to use, but I THINK the recipe I used to use was about half and half beef stock and chicken stock. It just seemed like the beef stock overpowered everything else, even the onions. It wasn't bleah, but it was just really blah.

                                                                      Really a waste of those great carmelized onions.

                                                                      Next time I'm just making golden onion angel hair pasta, that's a guaranteed win.

                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                        Shame about the soup. I usually use chicken stock and demi-glacee in a ratio of about 3.5:1. I wonder, too, if perhaps you had too much wine. I wouldn't add more than half a cup, maybe even less, for 2 quarts of stock.

                                                                        I'm thrilled, though, that you tried and liked the oven method of caramelizing the onions. I've mentioned it so often on these boards that sometimes I fear I'll be thought a one-trick pony. But no matter how many times I mention it, it seems someone new always finds it and it's too good a tip to keep secret.

                                                                        1. re: JoanN

                                                                          I didn't think it was nearly enough liquid, though the recipe called for like 8 large onions and I only used 4 or 5 - and that was the entire 3 lb bag of onions. But the beef stock just seemed way too strong. The recipe actually called for 2/3 c, but I accidentally poured out a whole cup.

                                                                          Obviously I won't try to use that recipe again.

                                                                          Would you care to share yours? I haven't made this in years and I don't remember the recipe I used to use, but it did call for chicken stock either in part or wholly. It was pretty good.

                                                                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                            There are some good onion soup recipes in this thread:


                                                                            I use the America's Test Kitchen recipe as a genereal guideline, but I make my onions in a Dutch oven in the oven and I use yellow onions, not red; I'll deglaze the onions with wine (or sometimes brandy) instead of adding wine along with the stock; I use homemade chicken stock; I often substitute veal demi-glacee for beef stock; and I usually use all Gruyere instead of part Swiss part Gruyere.

                                                                            1. re: JoanN

                                                                              Thanks. I have probably a couple dozen recipes for this that I've collected over the past few years but they all call for all that beef stock, and I don't think one is going to be much different from the next. Well, except for one that wants me to make veal stock - not likely to have time or the ingredients for that.

                                                                              1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                Did you make your beef stock or use canned? Canned beef stock seems to have a pretty bad reputation. I just checked The Way to Cook and she calls for homemade beef stock and then in Jacques and Julia, they use mostly chicken stock and only a small amount of beef stock. I think that may well be our problem.

                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                  I don't eat beef (much anyway) so nothing to make stock from. So it was "canned", but it was expensive and came in a carton, not a can. It was like $4 for 26 oz.

                                                                                  I've never used beef stock before, at least not wholly. I guess I'll start rooting around for recipes that use chicken stock instead. It's not worth it to me to spend all day making beef stock and having to buy the bones to do it with. Besides, I don't have a pressure cooker anymore so it really does take all day to make stock instead of just a couple of hours tops. I think it was 45 mins to an hour for chicken stock in the pressure cooker, a couple hours for beef stock, but it's been a really long time so I could be wrong about that.

                                                                                  Heck, you can't even get bones for stock in most grocery stores anymore. There's no butcher. Everything comes prepackaged. No more getting a package broken so you can get just a pound of something, etc.

                                                                                  It really sort of ticks me off, they package ground beef in 1.5 (approx) pkgs when most folks want to buy it by the pound. Most chicken as well. And you can't get it broken out anymore. Oh well, that's a whole 'nother post, LOL!

                                                                            2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                              Keller's recipe calls for 8 but you only end up using 1.5 cups of the finished onions. I use the leftovers to make pork tenderloin with caramelized onions, or put them on sandwiches.

                                                                          2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                            What beef stock did you use? Home made or bought? Was it too salty or too much beef taste?

                                                                            1. re: tzakiel

                                                                              Too much beef taste, just very heavy and overwhelming. In the past I've used chicken stock but I can't lay hands on any of my old recipes (I think they're permanently lost at this point). All the recipes I've been saving up to try online use beef stock and they're all about the same, ingredients-wise, so I'm betting my results would be the same with any of them.

                                                                              It was purchased stock - stock, not broth. I don't each much beef so don't have leftover bones to make stock. IN the past I've used both purchased and home made chicken stock, I don't remember any noticeable difference. It was low salt stock as well.

                                                                          3. This thread is making me salivate, I can almost taste the soup!

                                                                            (I really need to make French onion soup.....it's been on my "to do" list for years.)

                                                                            1. what I have found is when a well renowned chef says to cook something for what seems like way too long, it will turn out super delicious.

                                                                              9 Replies
                                                                              1. re: TheFoodEater

                                                                                good point FE. jfood once saw and interview with a name chef who said the difference between a home cook and a professional chef is that the latter has the guts to keep the dish on the fire longer to get that extra flavor.

                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                  For me, the difference is in doing it for love, or doing it for money.

                                                                                  I'd rather do it for love. For the love of the thing itself, and for love of the people you are nourishing. Spending extra hours doing something that is going to make little or no difference to me or mine means taking time away from being with the people you love.

                                                                                  A well crafted meal is far more to my preference than an artistic one. The "art" of cooking is what brings us things like mango-avocado mayo. *shudder*


                                                                                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                    the two need not be mutually exclusive. when jfood makes his onion soup the first ingredient is a call from little jfood, "i'm coming for dinner on sunday can you make onion soup?" And the three hours it takes jfood to caramelize the onions is also spent with family with a quick stop every 10-15 minutes to stir the onions. his three day short rib braise sounds like a lot of time. Day 1 is 10 minutes in the kithcne. day 2 probably an hour dicing and sauteeing and day 3 is 5 minutes skimming and reheating. so you need to know how to do things effieiently and get your bang for the buck.

                                                                                    mango-avocado mayo? blech, and then people put it on a pizza or a blueberry bagel. double blech

                                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                                      That's fine, but spending 6 hours carmelizing onions stove top is too much for me when you can get excellent results doing it JoanN's way, in the oven, checking it once every 30 minutes to toss it around with tongs.

                                                                                      I'm all for efficiency! I don't think 6 hours stove top is efficient is all.

                                                                                      Yeah, I'm all for kitchen craft rather than "art" - some of the stuff I see being pushed on tv cooking shows and in food mags seems almost surrealistic!

                                                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner


                                                                                        jfood does his in 3 hours and stirs every 10-15 minutes; joanN does hers for 2 hours and tosses every 30 minutes. sounds pretty close in time and effort, but as jfood always says, whatever works for each individual is fine with jfood.

                                                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                                                          Actually I carmelized mine for closer to 3 hours. They were extra yummy! Going to do it again tomorrow!

                                                                                2. re: TheFoodEater

                                                                                  The problem was not with the onions. The onions came out super-delicious being carmelized in the oven.

                                                                                  The problem was with all that beef stock. It's just way too strong for onion soup.

                                                                                  In addition, I've made very good FOS in the past, I just can't lay hands on any of those recipes. All I remember is that they used chicken stock either in whole or in part.

                                                                                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                    I finally got around to reading that other thread someone posted - jfood suggests using organic stock. I'll try that instead of the regular stuff.

                                                                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                      The best luck I ever had with a "boxed" french onion soup was a mixture of swanson's organic chicken and beef stocks, some sauvignon blanc, a dash of cognac and some fresh thyme. A reasonably authentic baguette, imported gruyere, and AMAZING onions (brown, sliced with the grain, lots of butter, 3 hours+) made something I enjoyed but don't particularly feel like making again. The stock is what animates all the other ingredients, and canned/boxed stock just can't do that. The absolute best it can be is "inoffensive."

                                                                                      Heat up some stock by itself and have a sip, if it isn't DELICIOUS I don't bother making french onion soup with it.

                                                                                3. I love Thomas Keller, but I think there is definitely a middle ground for caramelizing the onions. In my opinion the 30 minute recipes are a "quick and easy" trap when it comes to French onion soup. Sweating the onions (i.e. drawing out the liquids) is critical to proper caramelization and that alone takes 20-30 minutes. French onion soup is one of my all time favorites (and my husband's) and the recipe I have developed calls for about an hour and a half of caramelization - 30 minutes to sweat and about 45-60 at med-high to finish. Not 5 hours, but also not 30 minutes. It truly makes all the difference in the world to be patient with the onions since they are the heart and soul of this dish.


                                                                                  Cynthia Brown

                                                                                  1. Michael Ruhlman, who has worked with Keller, gives a Lyon-derived onion soup recipe in his new book "Ruhlman's 20." He says that this is the kind of soup served in the tradition bouchons of Lyon. It is similar to Keller's in the care taking to caramelize the onion, but it uses only onions, butter, salt, water, and some sherry (plus the crouton and cheese topping). Since I detest packaged beef broths and stock (though I'll use chicken in a pinch) and I rarely have time to make a proper stock from scratch, I welcome this approach. I plan to give it a try when I cook Thursday--provided I can get some oven proof soup bowls of a suitable size. If worse comes to worst, I can prepare the croutons with cheese on a cookie sheet and float them on the soup in an ordinary soup plate. Ruhlman rarely misleads you, so I expect the results to be very good. Has anyone else tried the recipe already? The book just came out.

                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                                                      I look forward to your follow-up report.

                                                                                      1. re: Funwithfood

                                                                                        I found my bowls in a thrift shop today.

                                                                                      2. re: Father Kitchen

                                                                                        Be interesting to know how this turned out. Hard to imagine a good onion soup without beef stock but, as you say, the source is a credible one.

                                                                                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                                                          I have made all the versions mentioned. The Ruhlman water version was actually really good, but perhaps one has to put aside your preconceptions of what Onion Soup should be.

                                                                                          It is truly Onion Soup. Not onion with beef, or onion with chicken; just onion. We actually thought it was delicious. Without the meat broth as a base, it feels more like a first course soup. This is now our go-to version. I do add fresh thyme to the onions during the caramelizing stage since I love that flavor with onions.

                                                                                        2. Caramelizing onions is a technique, and the end result can't be based on time. First, it depends on the amount of onion (and 8 lbs. is a lot). The surface area of the pot you're using will affect how quickly the liquid thrown off by the onions reduces, and once this happens the onions will start to caramelize.

                                                                                          There's also the level of heat. One of my pet peeves is ordering something from a restaurant that lists caramelized onions, and getting onions that have been quickly browned. Browning and caramelizing onions are not the same thing. A long slow caramelization produces a much sweeter and softer texture, which is why Keller has you do that.

                                                                                          When I made Keller's version I used a tall pot (poor choice), and it took about 7 hours to caramelize 8 lbs. of onions, but in the end, I had properly caramelized onions.

                                                                                          1. I am going to try this recipe using a combination of red and yellow onions.. unless anyone strongly advises I do not.

                                                                                            1. I have spent all day carmelizing these onions for this soup..however, the recipe only calls for 1.5 cups...is it ordinary to have extra onions? should I just add them to the stock or use them for another purpose?

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: foodieop

                                                                                                If I am going to take the time to caramelize an onion, I do a huge batch. The leftovers freeze really well and are great for making more soup, or as a pizza or burger topping.