Old School French Onion Soup Gratinée

February 17, 2010
2 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

Onion soup is one of the most satisfying cold weather meals I can think of. It reminds of dark restaurants with the leatherette banquettes that you used to sit on as a kid. No fancy riffs here. This is as authentic as you can get. The most important ingredients are the stock and the onions (obviously). If you screw up either one it will fail. I was drilled in this method by my francophone masters in Scottsdale, Arizona. Could I just say right now that I hate Arizona. The choice of stock is up to you. My personal preference is for veal stock. But the standard preparations also include chicken stock, beef stock or a combination of two. Make the stock one day ahead [recipe to follow] Chill it in the refrigerator and do a final skim of the fat cap that has formed.

The next key step involves caramelizing the onions. Don’t rush this. It’s going to take at least 40 minutes to have them just right. I can’t emphasize that enough. After that it’s easy. You’ve probably seen this soup served with a big slab of Swiss cheese melting on top. You can do it that way, but don’t invite me over. Also this dish breaks a number of rules in the kashrut so don’t ignorantly serve it to your observant Jewish friends. I’m not saying this to be politically correct but rather because I think it’s important to understand that the food values (as well as allergies etc.) that your guests bring to the table are as important as you being master of the kitchen. Food should be nourishing and not a threat to either your faith or your mortal coil. As much as I would like to run over every vegan non-meatatarian with my car, I probably won’t be doing that soon. Okay, I promise.

What You'll Need
  • The stock
  • 2 pounds veal bones
  • 2 carrots, cut in large pieces
  • 1 white onion, cut in biggish pieces
  • 1 skinny leek
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 handful fresh thyme on the branch
  • large sprig parsley
  • water to cover
  • salt and pepper
  • For the soup
  • 2 quarts veal stock (or your preference), which you made the day before
  • 1 1/2 ½ pounds sweet onions (Vidalia, Maui etc.) sliced as thin as you can get them sliced
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1 or 2 shots good cognac
  • Salt and pepper to adjust flavor
  • 1 cup best gruyere you can find; grate it
  • Slices of crusty, day old baguette, cut to fit individual bowls (possibly bias cut)
  1. Make the stock lovingly by browning the bones, carrot and onion in a roasting pan in a hot oven. If you like, paint them with some tomato paste.
  2. When the bones etc. are nicely colored transfer all to a stock pot and cover with water.
  3. Make a bouquet garnie by splitting the leak lengthwise, and cut off most of the top. With kitchen twine bind the herbs between the leak sections. Add to the stock components. Season.
  4. Bring everything slowly to a simmer, skimming foam as needed. DO NOT BOIL or your stock will be cloudy.
  5. Simmer the stock for 6 to 8 hours. Finally, line a chinois with cheesecloth and strain. Discard the bones and bouquet and stuff. If you are obsessive like me, take another piece of cheesecloth and strain a second time.
  6. Refrigerate overnight. In the morning skim the fat cap off of what should be a nice looking gelatin.
  7. Now make the soup
  8. In the heavy pot in which you intend to finish your perfecto onion soup, melt some good butter over medium low heat. Add about 1 tbs olive oil. Add the onions and increase the heat slowly. You are going to have to stand over this and stir for awhile. Get used to it. You want to slowly sweat these down to develop a brown sugary color but not scorched. Take your time, the World can wait. Allow at least 40 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile heat your stock. When you are happy with your onions add the hot stock and the cognac to that big pot. Bring to a simmer and taste for seasoning. Continue to simmer.
  10. Now grate the best Gruyere cheese you can find. Top the bread slices with the cheese over. Ladle your perfection onion soup into individual bowls and top each with a crouton of bread. At this point you can stick the bowls under a broiler (I doubt that your kitchen comes with a restaurant salamander---if it does, you rock!) or just torch the cheese with a mini-torchy thing. I have one. Welcome to Purgatory. Your cheese is melted, your soup sings to heaven, you are ready!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Pat E. in SLO
    Pat E. in SLO
  • boulangere
  • lastnightsdinner
  • drbabs
  • pierino
Standup commis flâneur, and food historian. Pierino's background is in Italian and Spanish cooking but of late he's focused on frozen desserts. He is now finishing his cookbook, MALAVIDA! Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Visit the Malavida Brass Knuckle cooking page at Facebook and your posts are welcome there.

8 Reviews

Pat E. February 22, 2014
Though not my choice....I need to make this on Sunday for an "after work" birthday dinner on Friday. I know the broth will be fine but do you think the carmelized onions will "hold"? ...and should I combine them or wait until Friday to put it all together? Thanks for your thoughts.
pierino February 22, 2014
I'm afraid you'll have to call in sick that day and tell everyone when you arrive that the soup stock healed you. You correctly note that the broth will be fine, but the onions are the single most important component and need to be done properly. At Applebee's they probably make them a week in advance but that doesn't mean that you should. You can give it a try but I'm afraid I wouldn't hold out much hope. That's a long time to keep carmelized onions.
boulangere November 13, 2012
Guzmadon January 30, 2011
After making this for my wife this weekend, I'm confused. Why hasn't the comment section for this soup blown up! The simplicity of this dish cannot be overstated. The way the stock and onions are brought together by the deglazing done with the cognac is the payoff for all the patience needed to execute and enjoy this once peasant soup. Made the croutons with melted gruyere separate from the soup and floated on top at presentation. Wife is a huge fan of French Onion Soup and ranks this among the best. Thank you for sharing this recipe.
pierino January 31, 2011
And thank you for your comment. I may submit it again if the right theme presents itself; maybe "your best soup with crouton". But I like doing things the old way.
lastnightsdinner February 17, 2010
I use veal stock when we have it, a 2:1 ratio of beef stock to chicken when we don't, and other than that, this is almost identical to my tried-and-true onion soup :)
pierino February 17, 2010
The quality of the stock is vital. I'm not borrowing any ideas, I'm just doing it the old way. In Paris though, there are places that will use chicken stock. But you still have to make it yourself with all the attention to detail. Thanks.
drbabs February 17, 2010
I love the way you write!