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Best French Onion Soup?

One of my stepdaughters just loves French onion soup. I'd love to make it for her over her holiday break. Can you suggest a recipe that has a terrific cheesy topping? Thank you!

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  1. Here's my recipe.

    Note: This recipe can be made in smaller or larger batches and can be frozen.

    • 2 lbs onions (red or sweet), sliced thin;
    • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil;
    • 6 cups rich beef stock;
    • ¼ cup unsalted butter;
    • 2 bay leaves;
    • 1 tsp sugar;
    • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns;
    • ½ cup brandy (optional);
    • ½ lb gruyere cheese;
    • 1 loaf of crusty Italian or French bread.

    In a large heavy bottomed skillet heat the butter and oil until it just begins to brown on medium high heat. Add the sliced onions and stir them to coat with the butter and oil. Sprinkle the sugar on top and stir to incorporate sugar. Cook the onions until caramelized to a dark golden brown. That process will take approximately 30 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the brandy (if you omit the brandy deglaze the pan with some of the beef stock). Transfer the mixture to a soup pot and add the beef stock, peppercorns and bay leaf. Allow to simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes to an hour. Ladle the soup into oven safe bowls or crocks. Submerge a well toasted piece of bread in each bowl and cover with the cheese. Put the cheese covered bowl under the broiler until the cheese melts and is browned to the desired level.

    1. Den's recipe certainly sounds good... Here's one from ATK that I have made several times - it's outstanding. One of the problems with making FOS is that a lot of recipes call for only beef stock, and using the supermarket stuff will give you a sub-par soup (of course, if you have the time and energy to make home-made beef stock, go for it). THis recipe uses chicken stock along with a smaller amount of beef stock:

      Tie the parsley and thyme sprigs together with kitchen twine so they will be easy to retrieve from the soup pot. Slicing the baguette on the bias will yield slices shaped to fill the mouths of the bowls.

      2 tablespoons unsalted butter
      5 medium red onions (about 3 pounds), sliced thin
      Table salt
      6 cups low-sodium chicken broth (canned)
      1 3/4 cups low-sodium beef broth (canned)
      1/4 cup dry red wine
      2 sprigs fresh parsley leaves
      1 sprig fresh thyme
      1 bay leaf
      1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
      Ground black pepper
      1 baguette , cut on the bias into 3/4-inch slices (2 slices per serving)
      4 1/2 ounces Swiss cheese , sliced 1/16-inch thick
      1 1/2 ounces grated Asiago cheese (about 3/4 cup)

      1. Melt butter in large soup kettle or Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add sliced onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir to coat onions thoroughly with butter. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are reduced and syrupy and inside of pot is coated with very deep brown crust, 30 to 35 minutes. Stir in the chicken and beef broths, red wine, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, scraping pot bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, and bring to simmer. Simmer to blend flavors about 20 minutes, and discard herbs. Stir in balsamic vinegar and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. (Can be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated in airtight container up to 2 days; return to simmer before finishing soup with croutons and cheese).
      2. For the Crusts: Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, flipping once, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven. Turn the oven to broil.
      3. Set heat-safe soup bowls or crocks on rimmed baking sheet and fill each with about 1 1/2 cups soup. Top each bowl with two toasted baguette slices and divide Swiss cheese slices, laying them in a single layer, if possible, on bread. Sprinkle each serving with about 2 tablespoons grated Asiago cheese and broil until well browned and bubbly, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes and serve.

      STEP BY STEP: Slicing Onions for French Onion Soup

      Cutting the onions:

      1. Cut off the tip of the blossom end (opposite the root end).Cut the onion in half lengthwise pole to pole.

      2. Peel off the papery outer layer of skin. With the flat side facing down, cut each half in half lengthwise.

      3. Holding two quarter pieces together, cut crosswise into 1_8-inch thick slices.

      4. When you get close to the root end, flip each piece over separately on the other flat side and continue to slice.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bnemes3343

        When I have it, or can buy it, I substitute demi glace for all or a part of the beef broth in the ATK recipe and find it adds a richness and flavor that improves an already good recipe.

      2. Thank you...these both sound terrific. Two questions....why red onions vs sweet onions? and which cheese combination gives that thick coating that you would get in a restaurant that will be browned and bubbly. Thank you again for your help. I want to make this for her for Christmas eve.

        2 Replies
        1. re: DaisyM

          Doesn't have to be red onions, but I think they are a little milder and often used. The combination of the Swiss and the Asiago give you a really nice cheese topping - nice and brown and bubbly and some great flavor from the Asiago. Do you have some nice crocks you can use when you put them in the oven?

          1. re: DaisyM

            CI says that when they used Vidalia or such, the resulting soup was TOO sweet, hence the red onions.

          2. All of the recipes for my favorite soup look great.. I like to use different onions. red, white and Spanish. The red are sweet, the white has a bite,and the Spanish, mellow. IMO anyway.. The key is to camelize the onions, and make a LOT cooking them slow in butter and a little olive oil. You want them soft and carmelized, which will take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Low and Slow. Beef broth or stock. If I don't have fresh beef, I at least will add fresh chicken broth to the canned beef consommé. Garlic goes in towards the end of cooking the onions, don't burn it. Just about 2 cloves is all.
            Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper added to the onions while cooking then add red wine at least a cup. Then add that to the broth. Let it simmer away, low. Turn it off and let it sit to where it cools down.
            Add a crunch hunk of bread to the bottom of an oven proof bowl, add the soup with some onions, float cheese - alot, and then stick another half slice of bread through the cheese.
            Bake it at 350 until it is bubbling away.Serve it with a little pitcher of good sherry to float on top of the onion soup. Incredible.

            5 Replies
            1. re: chef chicklet

              This is great! Yes, I bought the little pots last year, but the soup I made was just okay. Didn't get that great cheesy topping and the soup didn't have great depth of flavor. I really want to spoil my stepdaughter with all her favorite food before she goes back to college. So this is one thing I've just got to right this year! Thank you for all of your help.

              1. re: DaisyM

                Don't use bagged cheese whatever you do, I was so craving it, and made a very fast version, I used some bagged cheese that my husband picked up (erh WHY?) anyway I used it to top the soup, the cheese never melted it was a clump of yucky stuff. So get a good cheese for that cheesy good quality. Like fontina, grueyere, swiss, even packaged mozzerella is better than that stuff!

                1. re: chef chicklet

                  Yes, absolutely! We have a very good cheese shop here. Can I just say that everyone who contributes to chowhound makes me such a hero in my family. You've made me a better cook and I always know the best places to dine whenever we travel. Thank you and a happy, healthy New Year to you and your loved ones.

                2. re: DaisyM

                  Oh! and Daisy, you are a terrific step-mom to put such thought into a meal for your precious stepdaughter. My boys have a wonderful step mom too that's does thoughtful things like you are.
                  Good luck with the soup!

                  1. re: chef chicklet

                    Thank you so much. Cooking (and eating!) wonderful food together has been a huge part of our family life. She is the extra bonus in my life!

              2. jfood believes there are three important aspects of onion soup (KISS)

                1 - how long to caramelize the onions;
                2 - quality of stock
                3 - quality of cheese

                1- jfood has tried the 40 minute all the way to 5-hour caramelizing. He has also mixed onions over the years. He likes a variety of vadalia (or Maui) and reds, with maybe a regular to give a little pungency. In cutting the onion, lots of people recommend a semi-circle, but jfood does not like the chance of the drip on the shirt and has settled on quarter circles. For the timing of the caramelization, he found little difference between 2 1/2 and 5 hours so he has settled on 2.5 hours on very slow. The difference between 40 minutes and 2.5 hours is worth the wait.
                2 - If you can make your own stock, can;t say there is any better way. Otherwise buy a good organic stock. Jfood uses the boxed organics and is very happy with the results if he cannot make home stock
                3 - jfood has heard all kinds of mixtures, but in the end the traditionalist for jfood wins out and 100% good gruyere is the way to go.

                Finishing Process - Get a good baguette and cut into 1/2-3/4" dices as soon as you start the onions so they harden a little. fill the onion soup crocks with the soup, float the diced bread on top, then layer the gruyere slices on top of the cubes and under the broiler. Bubble and serve.

                1. Cooks Illustrated mag just did an article on this. Results are fantastic. Available on newsstands if you're not a subscriber.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: houdini

                    Yes - I an anxious to try this new recipe. The "older" one is great, but I'm hoping this is even better.


                    1. re: houdini

                      I made this just the other day. It takes some time, but is very easy and came out fantastic.

                      1. re: rednyellow

                        So good to know. I'm in the midst of making this now and it smells fabulous....can't wait.

                        1. re: girlwonder88

                          Oh, so sad. I hate to admit this, but I didn't love the Cooks Illustrated soup at all. It was ok, but nothing spectacular. I do think that these were probably my problems, though: I used my cast iron Dutch Oven, and I think it contributed a bit of a metallic taste (plus it's easy to burn the onions a bit as you can't really see the color when you're doing the multiple deglazing this recipe calls for). Also, I don't have oven proof crocks, so used the technique of broiling the cheese on top of the slices of bread, and I didn't like that nearly as well-plus the bread scorched a bit. I'll give this one another try.

                    2. I made Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles French Soup that was posted here. FANTASTIC. Very easy, too. Make sure you get all the right ingredients including fresh thyme.

                      1. A huge "thank you" for all of your help. The soup was fantastic. I sort of combined most of what you had suggested into one recipe. I used beef/veal demi glace and diluted it with chicken broth instead of water. It gave a really rich taste. By the time I got to the bakery they were all sold out of baguettes. The owner told me she uses "Francaise" when making French onion soup...so I took a loaf and my husband cut thick slices to perfectly fit the little crocks. Terrific! Thank you again for helping to make a new family tradition in our house.

                        1. Jfood made the following recipe this past weekened and received raves from all. everyone agreed that the Sweet Onions made for a great flavor. The original recipe came from Saveur Magazine but jfood has modifed over the last 7 years.

                          6 tablespoons butter
                          1 tablespoon olive oil
                          3 pounds sweet onions, peeled and thinly sliced in Cuisinart
                          1 teaspoon sugar
                          Salt, to taste
                          1 tablespoon flour
                          8 cups beef stock
                          2 cups dry white wine
                          Freshly ground black pepper
                          1 baguette (Should not use slices but cut into 1/2" cubes)
                          1 pound gruyère cheese, cut into 1/4-3/8" slices

                          1. Melt butter and the oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat.
                          2. Add onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally (every 10 minutes for first hour and every 5-10 minutes the second hour), until golden brown and caramelized, about 1.5-2 hours.
                          3. Increase heat to medium-high, uncover, and add the sugar and season to taste with salt. Saute stirring often until onions are very soft and deep golden brown.
                          4. Reduce heat to medium, sprinkle in flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes.
                          5. Add about 2 cups of stock and stir to blend, then add remaining 6 cups of stock and the wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer for aboutone hour. Adjust seasoning to taste.
                          6. Preheat oven to broil.
                          7. Meanwhile, slice the bread into cubes and toast on a cookie sheet.
                          8. Fill bowls with the onion soup, Place cubes of toast in each ovenproof bowl, then spread a few slices of cheese on top of soup. Set bowls in 2 baking pans, place under broiler until cheese has browned.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: jfood

                            Are you using homemade beef stock, or canned beef broth?

                            1. re: pikawicca

                              Jfood hates to admit it but he uses the boxed organic broths in lots of cooking. In this case he uses the boxed organic beef broth. Its called Pacific something.

                            2. re: jfood

                              I tried this recipe on friday. Amazing. My guests agreed.

                              I caramelized the onions the night before, but added some thyme, (a pinch) and a bayleaf for hour 2, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce and finished it up for dinner on saturday so it sat overnight (in the fridge).

                              The gruyere cheese made the soup. tried it the next day with the left over cheese (i wasn't wasting 14$ a lb. cheese!) but with some other bread my gf picked up...not baguette and wished I would have waited to pick up another baguette. these two ingredients, really make it.

                              I used emerils organic beef stock in the box.

                            3. Last year I made Giada's recipe using fontina, onions, broth, croutons, and fresh thyme I think. Very very simple, very delicious. I loved the fontina. I can't find the recipe now on foodnetwork.com but I'm sure it's elsewhere on the net :) Go for the fontina!