The BEST French Onion Soup Recipe

The BEST French Onion Soup Recipe

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French Onion Soup, or Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée, is a French classic that is guaranteed to impress! A rich and hearty soup, made with onions that are caramelized to perfection, topped with crusty bread and two types of cheese and then gratinéed until ooey-gooey, browned and completely decadent. Perfect for a romantic dinner for two or for an elegant dinner party!

Looking to add more classic French recipes to your repertoire? I recommend you also check out my Sausage and Chicken Cassoulet, French Leek Tart, Boeuf Bourguignon and Gougères.

A bowl of French onion soup, garnished thyme.

Welcome to what I am calling a series of “sexy recipes” leading up to Valentine’s Day!

To start, one of the sexiest recipes of all times: French Onion Soup. Because who can resist a bowl of this decadent soup, especially when topped with garlic bread and bubbly cheese?

“Did you say garlic bread? For Valentine’s Day dinner?”

Yes, I did! But don’t worry. It is only slightly garlicky, enough to give the bread an interesting flavor but not garlicky enough to send your V-Day date running for the hills because of your vampire-repelling breath!

And as for the onion breath… Well, I can’t help you with that. There are 3 pounds of onions in this recipe. But I’ll be damned if you care after tasting this insanely delicious soup! 😋

An overhead photo of three bowls of French Onion Soup. You can also see a napkin, two wine glasses and some thyme sprigs.

What is French Onion Soup?

French Onion Soup is a classic French soup made of onions and beef stock, which is often served gratinéed with bread covered with cheese.

Onion soups date as far back as Ancient Rome, prepared for the first time over 8,000 years ago. However, the version that became popular in Parisian restaurants (and eventually the world) originated in Paris in the 18th century.

There are two interesting theories regarding the creation of this soup, both involving King Louis XV and his family.

The first says that he returned to his lodge from a hunt to find that his cupboards were bare except for onions, butter and champagne. So he and his great-aunt, who was staying with him, threw everything in the pot and created the first classic French onion soup recipe. In another variation of this version, King Louis was actually hosting a party in his hunting lodge when he became ravenous, which led him to raid the lodge’s pantry trying to find food.

The second legend claims that the Duke of Lorraine (Stanislas Leszczynski), who was Queen Marie’s father and, therefore, Louis XV’s father-in-law, was the one who discovered this onion soup. While he was on his way to the Palace of Versailles, he stopped at an inn called La Pomme d’Or in Châlons-en-Champagne, where he was served the soup. He found it so delicious that he went to the kitchen to ask to see how it was made. And even though “the smell of the onion […] brought great tears to his eyes”, he watched Nicolas Appert (the chef) dice lots of onions and copied down the whole recipe. Those who believe this version use as proof the fact that Nicolas Appert dedicates his recipe to the duke in his cookbook (published in 1831) by naming it onion soup à la Stanislas.

That being said, it was in restaurants surrounding les Halles – the Poule au Pot, Chez Baratte, the Pied de Cochon – that this soup gained its popularity, due to the addition of one key element: the gratinée.

Fun Fact:

The French Onion Soup is considered the ultimate hangover cure. When it was introduced to the Parisian court, it gained the nickname “the soup of the drunkards” because people realized it was very effective at covering the smell of alcohol after a night of drinking. To this day, it is tradition in France to serve this soup at weddings – long after the cake has been served – to prevent a hangover the next day.

A photo of all the ingredients needed to make this French onion soup recipe.

Ingredients

To make this French Onion Soup recipe, you will need:

  • Onions – I use yellow onions in this recipe, as they are inexpensive, slightly sweet and not overly bitter. You can use sweet onions if you prefer, but the soup will be a bit sweeter. You can also add a combination of several onion types, for a more complex flavor.
  • Beef Stock – I prefer using beef stock than broth. Beef stock is thicker and more flavorful, making the soup richer and… well, sexier! 😉 Homemade is preferred, but if you don’t have any on hand, store-bought works too. Just splurge on the good stuff! Sometimes you can buy beef stock straight from your butcher.
  • White Wine – We’ll use the white wine to deglaze the pot. It also adds acidity, which helps balance the sweetness and savoriness of the other components of this French onion soup. Use something that you would drink and, please, stay away from your grocery store’s “cooking wines”.
  • Sherry – Sherry is an aged, fortified (with brandy) wine. We are using dry sherry (Fino), which brightens the soup and adds a touch of nuttiness due to its sharp, delicate bouquet slightly reminiscent of almonds. I like adding both white wine and sherry for depth of flavor, but if you don’t have any on hand – by all means – just omit it!
  • Herbs – A few sprigs of fresh thyme and a couple of bay leaves (fresh or dried).
  • Oil and Butter – Yes, you’ll need both. Butter adds flavor, but it has a very low smoke point and it can burn over heat. Adding a little bit of oil will keep that from happening.
  • Flour – To thicken the soup.
  • Worcestershire Sauce – This is not a traditional ingredient in French onion soup. However, I personally think it adds a much welcomed umami, depth and savoriness. Without it, this soup is borderline bland to my taste.
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Cheese – Gruyère and Parmesan are the classic choices for this soup. The Gruyère melts beautifully and adds a delicious nutty flavor while the parmesan adds yet another layer of umami-ness. If you must substitute, other cheeses you can use are: Jarlsberg, Raclette, Beaufort, Comté, Gouda, Mozzarella or even Provolone.
  • Bread – Any kind of crusty bread will do. I like a rustic sourdough loaf (or even a loaf of Italian bread), but a nice French baguette will also work. If using the baguette, you might need two slices per bowl, depending on how wide your ovenproof bowls are.
  • Garlic – Another not traditional ingredient. But rubbing a clove on garlic on the bread slices really bring this French onion soup to a whole new level!

No sugar, Olivia?

No, there is no need to add sugar to caramelize onions. Onions already have natural sugars that are intensified when they are slow cooked.

The sherry, albeit dry, also brings a slight sweetness that helps balance the bitterness from the onions.

If, at the end, you taste the soup and think it is bitter and could benefit from a pinch of sugar, by all means, go for it! I prefer you use the sugar to correct the seasoning at the end than add it in the beginning and end up with a too sweet soup that you won’t be able to fix.

A pot of French onion soup and an individual bowl with the soup.

How to Make French Onion Soup

French onion soup, like several other French recipes, can seem intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be!

This is an easy recipe and pretty much foolproof, if you don’t cut corners. If you caramelize the onions properly and use good wine and good beef stock, you will have an onion soup that is so delicious that it doesn’t even need the bread and cheese.

Ha! Just kidding. The bread and cheese definitely make it extra special!

Recommended tools and equipment: Chef’s knife (for slicing the onions), Dutch oven, baking sheet, parchment paper, kitchen brush, oven-proof soup bowls.

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