Slow French Onion Soup

Picture of Slow French Onion Soup
 Ah, I have discovered two French Onion Soups here on Instructables - a quickie and a slowie.  This Instructable is for extra slow soup.

"But, Abelman," you are saying, "Why should we make your French Onion Soup?"

Because it is delicious.  I love French Onion soup, which means it must be good.  Case:  My failed food blog.  You realize the truth now?  You see how amazing this soup must be?

Why is it called french onion?  I don't know.  I would guess it is because you french the onions.  Rudimentary research (read: my imagination) also shows that the French peasantry would use this soup to utilize an abundance of beef bones and onions.

This is a great soup for impressing the ladies or gentlemen callers that frequent your home because you are all so attractive.  It's also fairly simple to make when you've got relatives coming over for a few days.  Impress your friends!

This soup freezes well and can be prepped in a microwave.  
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To achieve an amazing gourmet flavor, use only the best ingredients.  Purists will tell you that anything other than homemade beef stock is garbage.  Homemade stock adds that (french phrase meaning "I don't know") to your soup. 

If you have the time, you definitely ought to make your own stock (this is Instructables, after all) but I'm using it from a can/box combo.  That Said, here is what you need.  (I apologize I do not have a mise en place photo, but I realized this would make a good Instructable as I was cutting the onions.  And if you don't know what an onion is, you have far more to learn than this Instructable will provide.)

Onions!  Six or so largish ones.  About the size of a grapefrut.  I use a mix of yellow and red because I like yellow and red.  These are the onions that have some sweetness to them, which is what you want in the soup.  The color won't matter in the very end, so its all a taste issue.

Butter:  If you're bothering to chef it and you're using canned broth, use the real butter.  Oil works well, too, but you need one with a high smoke point and that can sometimes equal less flavor.  Of course, a good oil means your dish can be more vegetarian friendly.  Which is a nice thing.  You only need three tablespoons, but you can add more if you want to.

Salt!  I use Kosher because I like for people to think I am fancy.  You'll only need about a tablespoon so if you are using "normal" salt, kick this back to about a teaspoon.

Beef Stock - try to make sure you have stock, not broth.  I find stock tastes way better.  Any commenter can respond with the science if they want -  I would be interested.  You'll need about four cups.

Any Stock:  Can work.  Tradition calls for the beef kind, but there's nothing wrong with chicken if you've got it or even vegetable - this dish can easily be vegan if you want it to.

Wine:  White, red, whatever!  If you're like me (and if you are, we should totally hang out - I need  non-baby/wife companionship) then you have a bottle of wine your wife drinks a glass out of and forgets about because she's on call and can't drink.  My poor wife :(  But it leaves me with lots of wine for cooking, and it tastes great!  You only need a cup, so you can always open a fresh bottle if you're that type.  Just remember you're working with blazing hot metal as you drink.

Herbage:  Parsely, sage, rosemary, thyme?  Definitely some thyme.  It is great stuff.  I use the dried, but fresh would be terrific as well.  I find dried is really not too different in a soup preparation so long as it's not too old.  You'll want a bay leaf, fo-sho.  That's my choice for this particular dish, but it won't suffer if you love the flavor of tarragon or other herbs.

Baguette:  A nice crusty loaf.  You should totally make one yourself.  They can be had at a lot of grocery stores these days near the checkout, and they work well - but homemade bread is amazingly easy.

Cheese:  Gruyere is a great choice.  I don't have it, so I'm using shredded mozzarella.  I know, right?  You can make your own mozzarella, if you really want to.  Toss a little parmesean on as well.

A big ol' Dutch Oven or oven safe pot with a tight fitting lid.  We're baking/roasting these onions.  Cool, eh?
Oven proof crocks:  These can be large ramekins or cool ceramic bowls.  They just need to be able to withstand broiling temperatures.

Some helpful Instructables (For you Extreme DIYers - Someday I will join you):
Make Baguettes
Grow Herbs
Make Mozzarella
Beef Stock
Make Wine
Make Butter 
Grow Onions

(Note:  I don't know these folks, but I thought some readers might like to really make it all for themselves, and so found these.  They will help make your slow soup even slower)

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bowow080710 months ago

This soup was great! I really loved it. Instead of using traditional wine I used a bit of old honey wine I had made lying around that's way way too sweet to drink so I use it in this soup and it's delicious! It adds an extra layer of sweetness apart from the sweetness of the onions themselves and the perceived sweetness coming from the herbs and spices, it's just divine!

Your instructable looks delicious! You captured a lot of details about what makes the soup traditional.

In response to the intro's ponderings, we Americans know French Onion Soup the way we do because of a 1907 recipe written by Ali-Bab in "Gastronomie Pratique".

Craig Claiborne of the New York Times popularized the recipe by publishing it in the Time in 1974, when Gastronomie Pratique was translated into English.

This link contains a re-cap of its American origin:

In French, the soup simply translates to "Soup of Grated Onions".

And it is delicious :)

quakeerc3 years ago
for your information , when you eat this soup in north of france (at "dunkerque" this is my town) , the legend say is against the hangover , especially when you are in the next day of carnival (in french : le carnaval de dunkerque ! search in google for few informations ;) ) the best in the world :p

et bon appétit !
French onion soup absolutely works as a hair of the dog food. ;)
Paperduck3 years ago
Je ne sais quoi?
Je ne sais pas.
BE NIIIIIIIIICE! I'm sure the French onion soup is just simpleminded, not slow.
Nerdz5 years ago

Does it matter what Kind of Wine you use as far as taste goes? Red, White, Soft, Sweet? Can Brandy or Gin (Or Vodka) be used to De-glaze?
matthewabel (author)  Nerdz5 years ago
 I wouldn't use gin or vodka - you want a flavorful liquid - fruit juices can work, too - so try to use a sweeter wine for this application.  I use red wine in mine, but I've seen it in recipes with white.

I've also seen brandy, sherry, and cider, or a mix of both.  If you like it, it will probably work well.
Sir, this recipe is off the chain, as the kids say. I teach an informal cooking class at a winery where I bartend - I will be using a sweet apple wine and a very slightly modified version. Thanks for posting it!
matthewabel (author)  revjim50005 years ago
 My God.  That sounds amazing.  Hope it tastes as it sounds.
It came out amazingly. From now on this shall not only be the default French Onion soup recipe, it will be the standard by which I judge all things.
Phoghat Nerdz5 years ago

chacun à son goût as the French say. I say go traditional at first. Red wine with beef. Try other combos to Taste

Dunhausen5 years ago
So this is 1 hr, stir, 1 hr, stir, 1.5 hours, remove == 3.5 hours total?
matthewabel (author)  Dunhausen5 years ago
 No, because there will still be moisture in the pan.  You have to get that all out - but it should be very close to perfect after the long roast.
Bujholm5 years ago
Ah, how sad I am - coming from an onion-loving Northern culture,  long time admirer of French onion soup, finally found your recipe, followed it to the letter (except for the onion cooking - sorry, seldom have time to wait several hours for something to cook in the oven, so fried them instead), even managed to understand what the glazing process was about - waited patiently until next evening, finished cooking it in oven with toasts and cheese... and ended up with a bowl of boiled onions. I am ashamed. What could I have done wrong? Was it because I fried the onions? They were quite tender and golden brown when I finished that part. Or did I finish glazing too soon? Your photos show onions glazed almost to the point of charring, and I am usually a bit cautious about that since charring the onions kills the flavor.  Help!
matthewabel (author)  Bujholm5 years ago
 Yeah, what Maxine LaRue says is true.

You don't want to "fry" you want to "sweat."  Even on the stovetop, they need to cook slowly - it can take over forty minutes to an hour.  There's no real way to speed it up.  The oven method makes it a little easier to get all the moisture out without having to stir all the time - you could set and forget.  

I wonder if a crock pot could work?  It may braise - but if the lid was ajar it could work and it would be a bit safer than leaving the oven on.  Of course, you'd want to transfer for final carmelization.
I believe the problem was that you cooked the onions too quickly. They need to "sweat it all out" & "carmelize". They turn quite mushy/brown & release all of their sugar that way.
Absolutely fantastic stuff. I highly recommend the recipe.
Sounds D-lish!  Read the commentary.... seems like lots of  use of one type of onion...?  Any radicals out there ever try a mixed onion variety?   I love all kinds of onions and usually have a variety on hand so any thoughts on going with a few kinds as opposed to just one variety of onion?
matthewabel (author)  Jane of all trades5 years ago
I use large yellow and red onions - they are sweeter.  You can also use Vidalias, I am told.  They should be sweet onions - you can check out various onion guides online or talk to a person selling onions at a farmer's market.

A lot of larger megamarts have little signs by their produce describing it, which is how I picked these particular onions.
Kozz5 years ago
Abelman, I'm compelled to comment even before I've finished reading the entire instructable.  Your completeness (including linking to other relevant instructables) is excellent, your manner of writing is friendly AND humorous, and the overall way you've presented things makes me want to give it all a go with the SLOW methods described within.  I also must echo scoochmaroo's accolades.  Continue writing more Instructables!

Maybe we are alike, as you've asked.  Holler the next time you're in Madison, WI and we'll go out for a beer or three.  (non-kid/wife time ranks high my my list, also)


And now, really, to the question:
When selecting the onions, you mentioned using red and yellow, but the ones that have "sweetness" to them.  Are these vidalia onions, or just your average yellows?  Alton has taught me all about what makes Vidalia onions special, but what I'm wondering is which you think is better in the soup?


matthewabel (author)  Kozz5 years ago
 To be honest, I cheated at the grocery store.  The produce department has little labels over each different fruit and vegetable - and I cannot remember if they were called "yellow" or "vidalia."

I did a quick research, and it seems that what I used were not Vidalias, but they should work.  You'll just need more of them.  I regret I don't have the weight, but if they fill the pot, you should be good to go.

I personally prefer red onions for any onion-related applications, but I am quite biased as I am extremely picky about my onion.  I am no onion expert, though.  Alton can always be trusted in my book.

I love Madison.  I went to school in MI's UP at NMU and we picked a guy up there travelling to Milwaukee - beautiful downtown.
According to sources at the Food Channel, if you use yellow onions add a pinch or two of sugar with the salt.
Put down a layer of onion, sprinkle with salt add a pinch of sugar. Add another layer of onion rinse and repeat.
l8nite5 years ago
LOL @ decimal conversion for hours ! 
I absolutly love onions and onion soup! I think you would know if you used vidalias, they are so sweet you can eat them like an apple. I like using large spanish onions for soup, its more pungent to begin with but cooks down and carmelizes sooooo nicely. I never thought about using red onions though, I 'll have to remember that. Half a toasted english muffin makes a good topper (Imho) Depending on my mood, and whats in the frig, I like blu cheese, pepperjack or a nice sharp white cheddar cheese.
 Nicely done "ible"
Phoghat l8nite5 years ago
ANY sweet onions are the best: Vidalias, Hawaiian etc. They're usually lare white skinned onions. Don't buy yellow.
godfish5 years ago
Ok just got done ;) and the wife and I are in heaven, I LOVE IT. but and only a small but, maybe it was the onions I got but 6 was to much, not enough soup to onions.

It's so good I will make this over and over and over again. Thank you for sparking the hunger in me :)
Phoghat godfish5 years ago
Actually that's how I like it
mlheran5 years ago
 WOW. I've never had French Onion soup before, but after seeing this I DEFINITELY have to make some -thanks for the great instructions! Thanks, too, for the veg/vegan option tips, I have some family and friends that will appreciate that.
Phoghat mlheran5 years ago
You don't know what you're missing. My 4 sons and their friends and I hang out at a sports bar for Monday Night Football. They get burgers and wings and I order the onion soup. They laughed until they tried it.
Phoghat5 years ago
Nice easy method to caramelize the onions. I've never seen it done this way. I've always done it the traditional way, on top of the stove.
mdeblasi15 years ago
Is that a whole stick of butter and an entire bottle of wine?  I'm about to start slicing onions.  My instinct tells me, half a stick of butter and half a bottle of wine.
matthewabel (author)  mdeblasi15 years ago
 Hm, I better put some quantities in.

3 tablespoons butter and about a cup of wine.  You can add more or less depending on your preference.
WastedOne5 years ago
Made it, was goooooooooooood
godfish5 years ago
Very nice, I picked up all the stuff today and I'm making it right now. I will let you know how it goes, but I don't see how much butter to use?
mdeblasi15 years ago
Judging from your illustrations, I've long been pulling my onions and adding the stock too soon.  I will make the soup again, this week, and cook those alliums until they are a nice dark brown.  

Incidentally, I have found that Oxtails makes a superior stock.  I learned that from Pho, which calls for Oxtail stock.  A further benefit to using the oxtails is that once a very good stock is made, the bones still  have much life in them.  Add a can of crushed tomatoes and the other necessary ingredients, let it simmer for a couple of hours and you're well on your way to sauce Bolognaise.
glaikind5 years ago
VERY nice instructable.  Having friends over in a few days and can't wait to make this!
WastedOne5 years ago
This looks great, I'm certainly going to try it this weekend.
 ohhh.. the syrupy goodness... *drools*
scoochmaroo5 years ago
Great stuff.
Please keep making Instructables!
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