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Onion variety for French Onion Soup?

I just made 2-3 quarts of beef broth/stock and am thinking of making a French onion soup for the first time in the next day or two. I am wondering how much it matters what variety of onions I use.

I know from other threads that some people here, like jfood, use "sweet" onions. I actually only ever buy yellow onions, which are apparently not the same as sweet onions. I'm also not sure if onions sold simply as "sweet onions" (from Texas) are the same as Vidalia and Walla-Walla style onions.


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  1. I've making Julia Child's "French Onion Soup" recipe for over 30 years now, & have used all plain old regular yellow onions, "sweet" onions like Vidalias/Texas/WallaWallas, & combinations of both. It's turned out perfect every time no matter what I used.

    So just have at it & enjoy!! :)

    1. Yellow onions are just fine. It is the carmelization of them that is really important for color and flavor. Get them really dark.

      1. Yellow. I find the sweet varieties too sweet.

        1. I wonder if anyone can offer a favorite French Onion Soup recipe? I'm finding that my collection of cookbooks actually seems rather poor for this task. NY Times cookbook seems not to have one at all, nor Barbara Kafka's Vegetable Love. Bittman's How to Cook Everything looks too hurried (30-45 minutes caramelization?).

          I'm thinking of using a mix of yellow and Texas sweet onions...

          2 Replies
            1. re: Bada Bing

              My hands-down favorite recipe for authentic French Onion Soup is, of course, the one penned by Julia Child in her fabulous & hands-down best cookbook "The Way To Cook".

              Either buy or borrow a copy of this fabulous tome. My copy is disintegrating, as yours will most likely when you find so many recipes you MUST try over & over - lol!!!!

              That said, while I follow her recipe, I don't cook the onions as long as she suggests, but still end up with French Onion Soup ambrosia. Go figure.

            2. Yellow storage onions - yes, yellow storage onions are the best for certain things and this is one of them. And not huge ones (the layers are too thick and the pieces are too long) - yes, that means you need to cut up a lot of yellow storage onions - no whining (crying is OK, though)! Red are OK, but the color when cooked is grayer and marginally less appetizing for some people.

              But not sweet onions. They do not have as complex a set of flavors as the storage onions for this purpose. Sweet onions are best for eating raw, not simmering and stewing and the like.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Karl S

                I've always heard and thought that, too, about sweet onions versus yellow. Sounds like something worth testing, if I can fit it into the cooking day.

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  For me, it's based on my experience making this soup in different seasons, and with different types of onions available. I used to be more wary of yellow onions, and my experience taught me different, as it were.

              2. The version I like most is Thomas Keller's from The Bouchon Cookbook...very straightforward, albeit a long slow cooking process (not necessarily active cooking, but requires checking up on every 15 mins or so). You can find the recipe online via google in a lot of blogs or obviously in the book.

                More or less spend as much time as I have to caramelize the onions - I can usually find 5 hours to do it very slow so the entire julienne gets caramelized...but if you have 2 hours, raise the heat some, but in general, the slower you caramelize them, the better the finished product.

                Another big trick I think is to let the onions sit in the stock for a day or two in the fridge, then reheat before the broiling stage...Again, not always time conducive, but the method I find makes for best results.

                If you have made your own stock and spent the time caramelizing the onions, I would suggest being extremely conservative with the salt...the salt can really overpower the sweetness (greatness) of the dish IMO.

                Love french onion soup in the fall/winter...Make it slow while watching college football on Saturdays, let the flavors meld together in the fridge until Sunday night while watching the NFL. Even though Keller's method takes a long time, I find it enjoyable since I can relax and do other things around the apartment, watch TV/read, ect while making the stock and caramelizing the onions - and as for the results, for such an easy, simple dish technique and ingredient wise, very few things can compare with the finished product. The whole is much greater than the sum of it parts.

                2 Replies
                1. re: dcole

                  But the OP's question is about the KIND of onions, not the technique of making the soup.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    Actually, I did follow up (upthread) to ask about recipe ideas, though dcole's reply seems to have gone (technologically) to my original message, so it's easy to overlook.

                2. Definitely resular yellow onions, as Karl says.. Ordinary white onions are second choice, reds will do if you don't mind the gray color, but avoid the sweet ones. Walla Walla. Vidalia, 1015 at al are not identical but are all too mild for this purpose. Also, slice them from pole to pole rather than crosswise. The former don't disintegrate during long cooking as much as crosswise sliced onions do.

                  After reading about it somewhere, I began combining beef and turkey stocks for onion soup and definitely think it is better than using one but not the other. After Thanksgiving, turkey stock with some beef base works just fine. Since making good beef stock is a tricky and costly job, it's nice to be able to use the simple, basically free turkey stock and just "beef" it up. In recent years I have been adding a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end, to perk up the mellowness of caramelized onions.

                  1. I use yellow onions. My feeling on the onions is this... If you properly caramelize the onions then red or sweet will be overkill on the sweetness. I have experimented with both and the soup was not balanced. Thoroughly caramelized (i.e cooked for a long time) yellow onions are plenty rich. Some recipes call for 30 minutes which I do not think is nearly enough since that is the time it takes just to sweat them. Other recipes call for 5 hours which I haven't tried. My recipe for French onion soup calls for yellow onions that are caramelized for about an hour and half to two hours depending on the quantity.

                    Cynthia Brown

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Cynthia B

                      I'd be interested in your recipe Cynthia. I plan on making FOS this weekend. I have Anthony Bourdain's recipe from Les Halles which has bacon in it. Looking for other recipes or methods. I know Jfood is pretty passionate about his but I can't find it. Thanks.

                      1. re: southernitalian

                        Hi, @southernitalian.

                        Here is my recipe. FOS is so delicious, enjoy your cooking weekend!!

                        -- Ingredients --

                        Day 1

                        * 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
                        * 1 tablespoon olive oil
                        * 5-6 medium yellow onions thinly sliced (about 3 lbs sliced)
                        * 1 teaspoon kosher salt
                        * 1/4 cup dry red wine
                        * 1-2 small garlic cloves pressed
                        * 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
                        * 4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
                        * 3 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
                        * 1 bay leaf
                        * 3 sprigs fresh thyme + 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme for tweaking
                        * 2 sprigs fresh parsley
                        * Fresh ground pepper
                        * Kosher salt or grey salt

                        Day 2

                        * 1/4 cup dry sherry
                        * Grated Gruyere/Swiss
                        * French baguette cut on bias into 1/2-3/4 inch slices. You will use 2 slices per bowl if the baguette is small.
                        * Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

                        Cynthia Brown

                    2. me too, I've made it with all different kinds, but when I actually plan it, I use red, white and yellow, and sometimes a shallot or two. It's all good. What makes all the difference is the cooking of the onions, low and slow, but you can ruin it if you go too far... Gold brown and I like them fall apart. Then the broth, good broth is equally as important.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: chef chicklet

                        Several years ago Cooking Light magazine did a three onion FO soup using white, yellow and shallots.
                        Very tasty but somewhat time consuming.

                        Like others, when pressed for time, I either buy beef stock from my local butcher or use one part canned beef consomme' to two parts canned beef broth (Campbell's and Swason's respectively) usually , and find that while both are processed, I still need to add salt at the end of the cooking making using the can stuff acceptable, or at least to me and the 50 or so friends that have been served it over time.