Authentic French Onion Soup
By Charlie Burke
Many variations of onion soup are served,
but the best, I believe, are true to the
traditions of the bistros in Paris neighborhoods. Certainly, each kitchen has its
own preferences (and we will offer options as well), but each preparation
requires following a few essential steps –- slow and thorough browning of the
onions, simmering the broth and onions sufficiently to allow full flavor to
develop and, finally, time in the oven to intensify these flavors.
Although total preparation time is two hours or so, only the initial browning
requires close attention. The soup can be made a day or two ahead, then
reheated and baked just before serving. The results are worth the effort when
compared to the pale onions and thin flavors which disappear under a thick
layer of cheese in more common recipes.
For 6 – 8 servings:
6 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup white wine (optional)
2 quarts chicken broth, beef broth or water
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6-8 slices French bread
1 ½ cups grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese or a mixture of either with Parmesan
¼ cup Cognac, dry Medeira or sherry (optional)
Place a thick- bottomed pot (4 quart) over medium heat and add olive oil. Add
onions and 1 teaspoon of salt. Mix onions with oil and salt, stirring until onions
wilt. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring frequently until onions are a deep
golden brown, approximately 30-40 minutes. Do not let tips of slices burn.
Add white wine and boil down until it is nearly evaporated. Add broth or water
and bring to a simmer over medium heat, then turn down to low and simmer
partially covered for 45 minutes. While soup is simmering, place bread slices on
a sheet and place into a preheated 325-335 degree oven until toasted golden
To serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper
to taste (little or no added salt may be necessary if canned broth was used). Add
the ¼ cup of Cognac or other spirits, if using, and ladle soup into oven-proof
bowls. Place a slice of bread into each bowl and divide the cheese among the
bowls. Place a sheet pan into the oven and place soup bowls into pan. Bake until
bubbling and cheese is slightly browned (20 -30 minutes).
If water is used, a lighter broth results, and highlights the rich onion flavor.
Chicken stock adds depth to the soup, while beef broth produces the darkest,
most dense version. Try them all and consider using half water and half broth. If
you wish to avoid the cheese and bread, simmer the soup 5 or 10 minutes longer
and skip the baking; it is served this way, as well. Serve any version with a
mixed salad and enjoy a brief trip to a Paris bistro!
About the author An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association and helps run the
Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows certified organic
herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.