February 19, 2010

French Friday: Onion Soup Gratinée


There was once a restaurant in our neighborhood where I loved to go on snowy days. Inside, it was what I imagine a Swiss ski lodge is like — all dark wood, tall paned windows, and a roaring fire. I would sit on the wooden bench, wrapped in a scarf, and order a bowl of their French onion soup. At brunch, a basket of sweet, yeasty breads and orange-scented butter would come out first. And then the soup would arrive, crusty with just enough melted cheese to make a point (but not create a stomachache) and I would break the surface and dip down into a rich brown broth. It was, until the restaurant closed a few years ago, one of my favorite weekend lunches.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a friend or foe who didn’t care for French onion soup. It’s one of those foods that’s pretty delicious even when it’s not it’s best (though I’ve never been one to grumble over too much cheese), and it’s blissfully simple to make. I confess I’ve gone into a bit of a panic in the last couple weeks over all the wintery foods I still want to make before the first asparagus crops up. There is the truffle mac and cheese beckoning and the fondue (and do I see a fromagey theme here?), but what I would say to you is: this should make your winter short list. If you’ve never made French onion soup it’s absolutely worth a whirl, and such a comfort on a snowy night when you are hunkered down on the couch this weekend watching Doctor Zhivago.

Onion Soup Gratinée
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Serves 6 to 8

Rather than broiling the entire soup pot covered with croutons and cheese as in Julia’s original recipe, I took the easier route and broiled the cheesy rounds of bread and then floated them atop the soup. This is especially helpful if you, like me, have a drawer-sized broiler that won’t exactly accommodate a soup pot.

1 1/2 pounds (about 5 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts boiling beef stock or broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons cognac
2 ounces Gruyère cut into very thin slivers
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
12-16 toasted baguette rounds
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes. Off the heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes more, skimming occasionally. Cover bread rounds with shredded cheese and broil until bubbly and melted. Stir cognac, slivered cheese, and raw onion into soup; ladle into bowls, and float a cheesy crouton or two on top.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


  • Anna: Mmmmm…! This sounds perfect for a winter night. Dr. Zhivago sounds like a good idea, too. Have you seen Barry Lyndon? It’s a film I wish I could see again for the first time – – so beautiful and epic and good for winter, too.5 years ago

  • Becca Smith Hill: You read my mind…no lie, I have been talking about making french onion soup all week! Am definitely making it this weekend! And just so you know, your guacamole recipe–from back in the day when you were doing your videos– is still my go-to for parties and such!
    XO, Becca5 years ago

  • Maria: The time the onions cook really makes all the difference, doesn’t it? I find with a good hour of caramelizing I can forgo the stock entirely (replaced with water), add a toss of fresh thyme and have a completely different – but just as delicious – soup. Kind of like French onion’s delicate cousin.

    It even tastes good come spring. :)5 years ago

  • Karen: Confession…I’ve only had French Onion Soup once, at a restaurant, assuming that I’d love it…but…I really didn’t care for it. I thought it was too salty for my liking, which is odd considering I love salty things (not to mention onions in and on just about everything). That has always made me wonder if maybe the version I had just happened to be overly salted? I’ve steered clear of it since, but it always looks SO good…this makes me want to roll up my sleeves and give it a go myself!5 years ago

  • BethP: This sounds amazing. As much as I hate to say it though, we are still months away from asparagus season! It doesn’t come till May. Last year I looked for it every week starting in early March… good news is there’s still PLENTY of time for soup!5 years ago

  • Sarah F: I have one problem with this recipe- I can’t stand the feel of onions in my mouth- it causes a very…shall we say…unpleasant reaction. But usually, I can get away with onion flavor. I wonder if I could use a hand-blender and blend them up? You make this sound so mouth-watering I really want to give it a try!5 years ago

  • Anna, I’m normally not a huge Stanley Kubrick fan, but I just added Barry Lyndon to the top of my Netflix queue!

    Becca, Oh man, that guacamole my sister makes is one of my favorite foods on earth. So glad you love it, too!

    Maria, That is a brilliant adaptation. And maybe just what Karen needs to avoid an overly salty soup.

    Karen, Maybe you should try Maria’s version, but I would definitely give the homemade version a whirl. Especially if you can do it with homemade beef stock.

    Sarah F, Yes, definitely purée it with your blender before the step where you add the cognac and cheese. I think that would be a marvelous solution to your problem.

    BethP, Well, the good news is that I can stop fretting about the incoming asparagus, I guess. :)5 years ago

  • Anna: Oh, great! I avoided Barry Lyndon thinking I wasn’t a huge Kubrick fan, too. My husband persuaded me to see it and I couldn’t believe the beauty of the interior scenes, filmed entirely with natural light. I’m betting you’ll enjoy it, too.
    Have a nice weekend!5 years ago

  • Ruth @ GraceLaced: My one attempt at French Onion yielded rubbery, overly salty onions and cheese. I will try again, methinks. I was thinking of you the other night–while watching Julie and Julia for the first time. Where have I been–didn’t really know much about the blog, book or the movie. I was curious to know what you thought about it. I imagined you, not unlike Julie, picking produce and baguettes at the corner market in the city…5 years ago

  • Thanks, Anna! You too!

    Ruth, Would you believe I haven’t seen Julie and Julia? But I LOVED My Life in France, and I do treasure a trip to a specialty shop. I heard mixed reviews about the movie, but I’d watch it just for Meryl Streep, obvs.5 years ago

  • Gina: Oh, Sarah! You have to watch Julie & Julia! It is so much fun and a wonderful blend between the two stories. I’ve read both of the books and think they benefit nicely from Norah Ephron’s treatment of them as a duo, juxtaposing the two lives. I really think you will enjoy it as a feel good, food oriented romp!

    Plus, Stanley Tucci is always great!

    The soup looks lovely and I have some frozen stock that I think will meet some onions very soon!5 years ago

  • Christine S.: Oh, I was so sad that I missed Dr. Zhivago on TCM last night! We had so many errands to run that I couldn’t only watch half of it…

    I LOVE Fr. Onion Soup! I think I might try to make this sometime before St. Patty’s Day! (Have to be careful, though, am on a diet and need to get cholesterol back down – diet/cholesterol both orders from the dr. and his dietician…:( Oh, that Julia and her butter!5 years ago

  • Ruth @ GraceLaced: Sarah–I can’t believe you haven’t seen Julie and Julia! Meryl Steep is killer. So worth it. I’m making Boeuf Bourgignon as we speak. I’m having one of those days where serving up a complex, yet hearty meal to those I love will undo all the frustrations I can do nothing about. Cooking is therapeutic.5 years ago

  • Funny you should mention this…at everyone’s suggestion I watched Julie and Julia last night and, of course, loved it. I was in tears pretty much the moment it started. Meryl Streep, if it’s possible, just garnered a little bit more of my undying love. And it made me want to sit in a corner booth in a bistro with a sole meuniere and my husband.5 years ago

  • Christine H.: I made this tonight and it was scrumptious! The perfect meal for a cold & snowy night in Texas. 😀5 years ago

  • Rebecca: After reading your post, I was inspired to dust of my copy of MTAOFC. I served onion soup for dinner with a green salad, roasted chicken and potatoes, and chocolate pots de creme. With wine flowing liberally, it was a terrific success! I have you to thank!5 years ago

  • Wow, that sounds like an AMAZING dinner! I’m so glad Julia was alive in kicking in so many of our homes this weekend! :)5 years ago

  • domestikate: Oh wow, that looks and sounds fantastic! My husband claims not to be a fan of french onion soup, but I’m not sure he’s ever actually tried it … now might be the time to try to convince him!

    PS. Sarah, I’ve not been reading your blog so much recently, and now that I’m back I’m wondering why I ever went away. Your writing is so warm and comforting, it’s a joy to read!5 years ago

Add a comment

I feel a recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation.
- Madame Benoit