Introduction: 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.  



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)

Step 2: Cut the Onions - Insert in Oven

Picture of Cut the Onions - Insert in Oven

HEAT OVEN:  400 degrees Farenheit.  That's about 200 C, or 475K, if your oven is set to Awesome Science mode.

I regret I do not have a photo of myself, but the only other person in the room was my 1 year old.  I regret, because I wear swim goggles when I cut onions.  And you'll need to cut those onions!  If you have a mandolin or v-slicer, this job will be amazingly more easy - and if you make your own v-slicer, that's so amazingly cool.

Before slicing, spray the bejesus out of the inside of the dutch oven and throw in the butter.

Anyway, the best way to slice is longitude-style.  Chop the roots off and cut in half pole to pole.  Then, slice thin wedges.  Perhaps, 1/2 cm slices.  As you get the slices cut, toss them in the dutch oven.  It should be pretty darn full by the time you're done.  At this point, sprinkle a generous pinch of salt over the onions.

Put the lid on nice and firm and slide the whole shebang into the oven.  Wait one hour.

What's going on in there?  The nice tight lid is keeping the moisture in the dutch oven and that is sweating the onions down.

Note:  As you slice those onions, keep the skins and trimmings.  You can freeze these for another day when you are making stock.  Or, put them in the ol' mulch pail for the compost heap.  Or save the skins for home dye day.  I prefer the stock option - I have a chicken stock bag I keep in the freezer after making chicken and it's great for veggie scraps, too since they all go in the pot.

Step 3: Stir, Repeat Ovening

Picture of Stir, Repeat Ovening

 After an hour, you'll want to pull out the onions and give them a stir.  Really mix it up in there and get all the flavorful bits off the bottom and sides of the pan.  Use a little elbow.

You'll put the pot back into the oven for more of the same.  Stir the onions after an hour.  If you're feeling brave, you can leave the lid a cockeyed so steam can get out.  I am not so brave as my lid tends to fall off.  If you do this, put the pot in the oven before you set the lid on.  Mix the onions again after an hour, but you'll leave them in there for about an hour and half.

I don't know the decimal conversion for hours.  If only Dan Ackroyd were here.

Step 4: Carmelize and Deglaze

Picture of Carmelize and Deglaze

Ah, now these are some nice onions.  At this point, they should be fairly sweated and turning a delicious brown. 

It is at this point you will pull the pot and set it on the stove top over medium heat.  The onions are less moist, but a lot of that moisture is still in the pot and you want to get that out.  Resist the urge to crank the heat and allow them to carmelize slowly.  You're looking for a deep mahogany color.

Mathematically speaking, Mahogany = Delicious if and only if we are not discussing wood.

You'll also have a few onions "catching" on the bottom of the pot.  That's okay.  After you've reached that perfect color, it is time to deglaze.

To deglaze, pour in your wine and start scraping the bottom.  This will get those amazingly delightful little bits off the bottom.  Keep your heat high enough and your wine will reduce until you have a lovely syrupy oniony mixture.

EDIT:  I thought I'd throw in here, that if you so choose you can pull the onions at this point and use them on hamburgers or for onion jam.  It's an amazing burger topping.  I can this "jam" for Christmas.

Step 5: Finish for the Day

Picture of Finish for the Day

Yes, for the day.  This stuff is AMAZING second day soup.  Which makes it even slower.  How do you finish?  Ah, yes....

When your wine has reached a nice syrupy consistency pour in your broth.  Do this a cup at a time to help deglaze any extra deliciousness (called "fond" because we're fond of it).  This should take a quart of stock, but it could take less or more.  It's really up to you.  I like a good thick soup, so I do a little less.  If you use all the stock, there will be no problems because you can a) leave it as is or b) reduce it until its the consistency you like.  Option B will give you a richer soup.

This is the point we add our herbage as well.  I toss in my bay leaf and thyme at this point, and sometimes a little extra splash of wine or apple cider (I didn't tell you about that because it is a secret ingredient).  If you're using fresh thyme with all the stems and whatnot, you can tie it up in a little bouquet which has a French name as well.  You'll take that out later.

Right now, you'll let this all simmer on the stove for 30 minutes.  If you're at your preferred consistency this very second, toss in a cup or so of water so it will not get even thicker.

And then, let it cool and toss it in the fridge for the day.  This is an optional step, but it tastes so much better the next day.  Otherwise, go to the next little bit.

Step 6: Presentation

Picture of Presentation

You can just eat this soup as is, which is okay if your lunchroom doesn't have a toaster oven or blowtorch.  But this is the way it is Done.  This is where you impress in-laws and possible significant others.

First things first, set your soup on the stove top to get nice and hot again.  You may want to keep the heat low since you are going to be doing other things for a few minutes.

Take your baguette and slice it into... slices I guess.  Shoot for about 3/4 in slices or 2 cm (and I know that's not a correct conversion).  If you're wise, you'll do this yesterday when you made the soup.  But I include the step here because you'll want to give the slices a little toasty-toasty.  If you've a toaster oven, that's easy as can be.  Otherwise, set them on a baking tray and toast them in the oven at 350.  If you sliced yesterday,  your bread will already be a bit hard so this will be a quicker process.  I only toast one side, but you can do whatever you like.  Once the slices are out of the oven, turn on the broiler and get one of the racks about 6 inches from it (this is also a good toaster oven application).

EASY MAKING TIP:  Prep your crocks now.  Put them on a baking sheet.  This will make your life easier.

Once the soup is heated thoroughly ladle it out into your crocks.  Leave a little room at the top so you can float the croutons on the top.  I like to arrange the bread so there is not a lot of space left for soup to be seen.  This is when you'll sprinkle your fancy cheese which I am very jealous of all over the top.  I will sprinkle my mozzarella from the sack on it.

Slide the baking sheet into the oven and broil for three to ten minutes.  Check this every few minutes because different cheeses can melt at different rates.  You're shooting for a bubbly brown cheesy top.  I prefer a toaster oven for this, actually, but they don't all have a broil function.  If you've got it, it's a lot easier to keep an eye on the crocks.

Step 7: Enjoy!

Picture of Enjoy!

 When the cheese is nice and bubbly, take your crocks from the oven (see, it's way easier with a baking sheet) and give them a few seconds to debubble.

Make sure the fam knows the crocks will probably be NASA hot when they get them.  Burning the in-laws is a Bad Plan.

As I mentioned before, you can do this easily at work if you've got a toaster oven.  You can even microwave it, but the bread won't be as crispy.

TIP:  Impress your pals at the construction site by using the blowtorch!


Astrolux (author)2016-05-31

Hey! I want to know what to use as a substitute for wine as i don't drink alcohol?

matthewabel (author)Astrolux2016-05-31

Apple juice/ cider or grape juice would work.

bowow0807 (author)2014-05-17

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!

garnishrecipes (author)2012-09-21

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 :)

quakeerc (author)2011-09-17

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 !

garnishrecipes (author)quakeerc2012-09-21

French onion soup absolutely works as a hair of the dog food. ;)

Paperduck (author)2011-09-18

Je ne sais quoi?

DannytheGreat (author)2011-07-12

Je ne sais pas.

BE NIIIIIIIIICE! I'm sure the French onion soup is just simpleminded, not slow.

Nerdz (author)2010-01-14


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)Nerdz2010-01-14

 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.

revjim5000 (author)matthewabel2010-01-22

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)revjim50002010-01-22

 My God.  That sounds amazing.  Hope it tastes as it sounds.

revjim5000 (author)matthewabel2010-01-25

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 (author)Nerdz2010-01-15

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

Dunhausen (author)2010-01-18

So this is 1 hr, stir, 1 hr, stir, 1.5 hours, remove == 3.5 hours total?

matthewabel (author)Dunhausen2010-01-18

 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.

Bujholm (author)2010-01-17

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)Bujholm2010-01-17

 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.

MaxineLaRue (author)Bujholm2010-01-17

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.

steveastrouk (author)2010-01-17

Absolutely fantastic stuff. I highly recommend the recipe.

Jane of all trades (author)2010-01-15

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?

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.

Kozz (author)2010-01-07

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)Kozz2010-01-07

 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.

Phoghat (author)matthewabel2010-01-15

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.

l8nite (author)2010-01-07

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 (author)l8nite2010-01-15

ANY sweet onions are the best: Vidalias, Hawaiian etc. They're usually lare white skinned onions. Don't buy yellow.

godfish (author)2010-01-09

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 (author)godfish2010-01-15

Actually that's how I like it

mlheran (author)2010-01-14

 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 (author)mlheran2010-01-15

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.

Phoghat (author)2010-01-15

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.

mdeblasi1 (author)2010-01-13

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)mdeblasi12010-01-13

 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.

WastedOne (author)2010-01-10

Made it, was goooooooooooood

godfish (author)2010-01-09

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?

mdeblasi1 (author)2010-01-09

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.

glaikind (author)2010-01-08

VERY nice instructable.  Having friends over in a few days and can't wait to make this!

WastedOne (author)2010-01-08

This looks great, I'm certainly going to try it this weekend.

INSTRUCTUBAL (author)2010-01-07

 ohhh.. the syrupy goodness... *drools*

scoochmaroo (author)2010-01-07

Great stuff.
Please keep making Instructables!

matthewabel (author)scoochmaroo2010-01-07

 Holy cow, I am featured so quickly?  I am a little emotional, honestly.  I am very happy to hear you enjoy the instructable - I love your various pie creations.

About This Instructable




Bio: I am a Montessori teacher who likes to make things and likes to teach the kids how to make things. I am new to woodworking ... More »
More by matthewabel:How to Bake PotatoesPeel Garlic Quickly With A SilpatPecan Pie
Add instructable to: