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French Onion Soup - Which Recipe do you Recommend?

I am looking for a great recipe for French Onion Soup. I browsed this board for recommendations and ran across suggestions for Julia Childs, Thomas Keller (French Laundry?), Cooks Illustrated, etc. Which recipe should I use?

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  1. I checked Julia's and T. Kellers, couldn't access CI; they all look good and basic. As long as you have very good (homemade) beef stock and carmelized onions, you'll get good results. If I was to pick, it'd be Keller's.
    I prefer either red wine or a touch of madiera in my onion soup, and use gruyere as one of my cheeses, with emmenthaler.
    http://www.imafoodblog.com/index.php/...

    1. I recently made Anthony Bourdain's from the Les Halles cookbook, after reading in another thread that it was excellent. It was easy and delicious, though I'd cut the vinegar just a tad.
      I used Comte gruyere on top, but raclette would work very well, too, I think.

      http://www.chow.com/recipes/10006

      10 Replies
      1. re: mcf

        Ditto on Bourdain's. That's the best I've tried -- but really, the quality of your stock is by far the most important part. If that's not superb on its own, your soup won't be either.

        1. re: dmd_kc

          Unfortunately, I didn't have superb stock and didn't even know what "dark chicken stock" was, though I suspect it's highly concentrated. I used an organic brand of store bought stock and added some Better Than Bouillion to it, but will definitely make a rich stock at home before making it next time.

          BUT, the soup was still fabulous, owing mostly to making sure the onions were evenly dark brown.

          1. re: mcf

            Dark chicken stock is chicken stock made from fully browned bones and vegetables. The concentration can vary as per your needs, but has nothing to do with whether it is a "dark" stock.

            You might be surprised how easily it can stand in for beef or veal stock in other recipes, and it's easier for many home cooks (me, at least) to get chicken carcasses on the cheap than beef or veal bones.

          2. re: dmd_kc

            Agreed... It really doesn't matter that much which recipe you use. The quality of the stock and the cheese make the dish.

            1. re: StheJ

              There is a god one in the Nero Wolfe Cookbook (believe it or not) that omits the cheese completely and adds vermouth. It is quite good.

            2. re: dmd_kc

              I third Bourdain's. It's amazing!

            3. re: mcf

              I noticed that his recipe only calls for cooking the onions for 20 minutes. Is that enough? I thought the conventional wisdom was to cook the onions for at least an hour or 2, no?

              1. re: sparkareno

                It might be enough if you have a 36" wide pan and a commercial stove, but I had a very large Le Creuset dutch oven, did it a little lower than I will next time, and it took at least an hour or two. I turned it up after a while and the browning began quickly, without scorching. Another possibility might be to use a big steam table pan I have on the bottom of a hot oven, to spread them out more. But plan for it to take a bunch longer if you're using a less than gargantuan pan.

              2. re: mcf

                Another vote for Bourdain's recipe - but I substitute white wine for port, and skip the bacon (I just really can't picture bacon in onion soup). Also use good boxed stock, not homemade, because I am lazy - half beef and half chicken, all low-sodium.

              3. The Jan/Feb 2008 CI recipe is based on a labor-intensive French method which uses only water as the liquid and deglazes the pan many times. Even though CI adds chicken and beef broth and cuts the number of deglazings, it still sounds like a lot of work to me. I have not made it although it sounds wonderful, because I have been very happy without a recipe, just by caramelizing a lot of onions and using homemade turkey stock enriched with beef base.

                I've often ordered it in restaurants, where it is most often disappointing because the onions are undercooked. As long as you don't try to rush the caramelizing, I expect that you will be pleased with any of the recipes.

                3 Replies
                1. re: greygarious

                  I tried the CI recipe and it was WAY too much work...the resulting soup is good...but not THAT good.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    Having made french onion soup for years I found that the basic technique in the CI recipe, which is to basically to keep creating a fond and then deglazing makes for a depth of flavor I haven't found in any other recipe,even when using a good stock. It takes some time but it isn't really much work if you're doing something else in the kitchen at the same time.

                    They recommend baking the onions first. I don't bother with that.I do it on top of the stove. I like to add a nice dry sherry rather than wine, Since I don't have french onion soup bowls I often melt the gruyere on toast under the broiler and then plop them onto the top of the soup. This also make having a bowl for lunch less of a production!

                    I usually hate it in restaurants except in Paris...here's it's usually all gloppy cheese and soggy bread on top of an anemic little serving of soup.Yuck.

                    1. re: glowcooks

                      I love the CI recipe. Suggestions: start with a GREAT stock, and don't use sweet onions (I made that mistake only once - beefy dessert soup, anyone?)

                      And I agree - more soup, less gloopy bread and cheese! I also like to add some sliced onions in near the end of simmering, I like the texture contrast.

                  2. I'll contribute here. In St. Louis, for many many years we had a mulit location department store named Famous Barr. They eventually were purchsed by May Co, who operates the locations today. Back in the good ole days, Famous Barr stores had nice restaraunts within--a great place from soup, sandwiches, salads and other wll done meals.

                    Their version FOS became "famous" if you not only lived in STL but came here to visit. I've had dozens of versions of this my favorite soup, I probably have two dozen recipes with their unique variations. There are others I enjoy very much, but you may not be aware of this one. I wouldn't say its very different from many of them, however its not difficult to come together and it is simply spectacular and will not disappoint. If you want to carmelize your onion for three days, go ahead. Much effort theat just isnt necessary.

                    This is a home adaption from one of the cooks from one of the the original Famous Barr Department Stores in St Louis. Cheers. (it makes a large batch, so adjust to your needs.)

                    FAMOUS BARR FRENCH ONION SOUP

                    Ingredients

                    5 lbs onions, unpeeled
                    1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
                    1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
                    2 tablespoons paprika
                    1 bay leaf
                    7 (16 ounce) cans beef broth, divided (recommended Swanson's)
                    1 cup dry white wine (optional, recommneded)
                    3/4 cup all-purpose flour or instant flour (such as Wondra)
                    caramel coloring (optional) or Kitchen Bouquet (optional)
                    2 teaspoons salt
                    French baguette
                    Gruyere cheese

                    Directions

                    Peel onions and slice 1/8 inch thick, preferably in a food processor (?). Melt butter in a 6-quart (or larger) stockpot. Add onions; cook, uncovered, over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally (the long cooking time makes the onions mellow and sweet.) Stir in pepper, paprika and bay leaf; saute over low heat 10 minutes more, stirring frequently.

                    Pour in 6 cans broth and wine. Increase heat and bring to a boil.

                    Dissolve flour in remaining 1 can broth. Stir into boiling soup. Reduce heat and simmer slowly for 2 hours. Adjust color to a rich brown with caramel coloring, season with salt.

                    To serve, pour into ovenproof crocks or bowls. Top with a slice of bread and a sprinkling of grated cheese. Heat under the broiler until cheese melts and bubbles, about 5 minutes. Refrigerate overnight if not serving immediately. To serve, heat soup in microwave or on stove top. Should be able to halve this recipe for 4 servings plus have a quart leftover for freezing.

                    Full recipe makes 4 quarts, or 16 servings.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: mtomto

                      Ive tried about 5 different recipes/methods....hands down, for me and mine, the Bouchon recipe is the best. I usually go longer than it calls for; about 8 hours or so on lowest heat. The depth of flavour is incredible.

                      1. re: mtomto

                        Famous-Barr was always owned by the May Co. This soup was developed by Chef Manfred Zettl, who was hired by the late Morton May as Executive Chef for the store chain.

                        1. re: robt5265

                          Honestly... Just looking at this recipe, I'm not a fan. While I'm sire it's great for a chain type restaurant, it really doesn't work for me. Mostly because of the swanons broth, but also because of the paprika (which I really don't feel is germane to french onion soup), the caramel coloring? and the flour (I find that just throwing it into a soup, gravy, sauce etc... is a mistake. You really need to cook it first in some fat of some sort)

                          I'd try it out to be sure, but I don't have the time to waste caramelizing the onions to possibly get bad soup.

                        2. re: mtomto

                          This is a very simple and very good recipe. As a native of St Louis now living in DC, I have memories of shopping with Mom and Grandma on Saturdays, all dressed up and having lunch. The recipe was published in the Post Dispatch in the 1970's. My family made it frequently and it was all but forgotten for a decade. When I moved my mother out of her home, I was going through the recipe box and found it. Onions were on sale right before our big snow and I made this and invited all my neighbors over for a blizzard dinner. This gets rave reviews everytime I make it - every drop is consumed. The original chef was Manfred Zettl, who is a master chef in St. Louis. Don't knock this simple and inexpensive recipe until you try it -- BTW, the orignial recipe called for 3lbs of onions.

                          1. re: mtomto

                            My MIL who is from St Louis makes this recipe. It does make a HUGE batch of soup.

                            If you make FOS properly you shouldn't need to be adding caramel coloring. I honestly don't even know what that is but it doesn't sound like something mother nature came up with!

                          2. THe Famous Barr FOS recipe I posted was adapted with "ease" in mind for the home cook ie someone probably a little too busy to make stock, etc. Clearly one can go greater lengths if desired, but the construct yields a top notch FOS. If following the Kellers of the world seems appropriate then all is well, It just isnt necessary sometimes. End of the day, following this, yields an awesome soup that rivals many others that involve more laborious steps.

                            Here's hoping someone benefits from it.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mtomto

                              Famous Barr is why I love onion soup today. The gratinée is the most important part-don't forget the Gruyere for the grated cheese. Why is it that so many places just melt the cheese on onion soup?

                            2. Thank you everyone for responding! I appreciate it more than I can express. I think I will try them all! (so excited!!!)

                              1. Update...I made the Thomas Keller recipe from Bouchon, it was very very good! I was able to push the onions to caramelize for 5 hours and they were amazing. The hardest part of the recipe was feeling the burn from cutting 9 onions. I used emmanthaler and gruyere cheeses as I really enjoy a stronger cheese flavor.

                                I am going to try Anthonly Bourdain's the next time my eyes need and intense cleansing.

                                Thank you, again.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: wineos

                                  Try shop goggles or those wrap around sunglasses. My husband sliced the onions for me, and I felt some stinging from across the room, it was so intense after 8 onions.

                                  1. re: mcf

                                    good advice on the shop goggles. I wear my motorcycle glasses and the stinging is never an issue.

                                  2. re: wineos

                                    FIVE hours to caramelize the onions??? Don't they just about disintegrate by then? Still, I'm curious enough to want to check out the recipe. Can you post it here?

                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                      Onions sliced parallel to their equator (crosswise) break down a lot faster than those sliced from pole to pole. Refrigerating the onions before peeling and slicing eliminates the eye tearing.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        For onion soup, I always slice the onions pole-to-pole; they do hold up better that way than they would if they were sliced into rings. Still, five hours of caramelizing seems like a long time.

                                    2. re: wineos

                                      Glad to hear your recipe worked out for you. I don't use his, more or less over the years I've developed my own. I really wanted to let you know though, since it is a rather tedious job cleaning and slicing the onions I usually make enough for another meal. It freezes beautifully, and will taste like you just made it. I love French Onions soup that much, that when I get a craving it's wonderful to pull it from my freezer for a quick fix. Make sure you have plenty of bread, and cheese though, its not even close without it.

                                    3. I've made Julia Child's recipe 3 or 4 times... a lot of work, but the result is fabulous.

                                      1. Yum. I'd love to see a vegetarian version of french onion soup...any favorite recipes?

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: kermit

                                          This is not only vegetarian, it is my favorite onion soup in the entire world.

                                          http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/mag...

                                          1. re: pitterpatter

                                            pitterpatter, oh my, that looks delicious! I've bookmarked the recipe to try soon. Will report back. Many thanks!

                                        2. This isn't a recipe for a traditional french onion soup...but on Pairings with Andrea she made an onion soup with apples and crumbled bacon:

                                          http://www.fineliving.com/fine/pairin...

                                          When I'm in the mood for something different I like to make it...but I can't make any other onion soup at my house thanks to this recipe (my family thinks it's the BEST).

                                          1. I cook it Keller's way, and have tried Julia's and Bourdain's. I like Keller's way because I just feel like a lot of love goes into the soup. I just made it yesterday and blogged about it:

                                            http://www.jonvandalen.com/lte/2010/0...