Thursday, September 6, 2012

Soupe a L'Oignon au Fromage (French Onion Soup with Cheese)

With the Labor Day holiday marking the unofficial end of summer, I’m slowly saying farewell to the cold, foggy Bay Area summer days and hello to the warm, clear autumn days and chilly nights the area is famous for. Even though we officially still have a few weeks of summer, I’m ready for the change in season and the wonderfulness autumn brings.

Autumn, by far, is the best time of year in my view. It signals the beginning of the holiday season (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day and my annual wine and cheese party) and the chilly nights are perfect for soups, stews and bisques.

One of my favorite soups is Soupe a L'Oignon au Fromage (French Onion Soup with Cheese.) There's nothing more warming than a big crock of onion soup on a chilly autumn night. 

French Onion Soup

Topped with toasted French bread and deliciously gooey melted Gruyere cheese, French Onion Soup warms the heart and soul and is all that's needed for a fantastic seasonal meal. Serve with a simple mixed green salad and vinaigrette.

Here's how I made it: 

In order to make French Onion Soup, you must be prepared to chop many, many onions - five pounds, to be exact. In order to do this efficiently, you MUST have a good quality knife. Not only a joy to use, it's also much safer than an inexpensive (e.g. Ronco) knife you probably have tossing around in your kitchen tool drawer. I personally love J.A. Henkels Twin Cuisine Santoku. This is an excellent knife and will help make slicing onions fun. 

Six pounds of onions, sliced
I use a variety on onions; Spanish, white and Italian sweet red. I think this combination makes for a better soup, but do what you want since it won't impact me. Once the chopping has concluded, place a large Cocotte (or Dutch oven) over a medium flame and heat gently. 

Add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions to the cocotte and stir. 

Some recipes say this quantity of onions should be caramelized in about 40 minutes, but I have NEVER found this to be the case. I've made this soup many, many times and 1.5 - 2 hours total is a much more realistic time frame. Remember, this is a HUGE quantity of onions. 

If you feel you cannot stir onions for this amount of time, this recipe is NOT for you. Stop reading, please. 

Now, for the real cooks who are still reading, on we go. 

After the onions have caramelized nicely, add the finely chopped garlic and stir for a minute or two. 

Now goes the brandy. Pour the brandy into the onions and garlic from a copper flambe ladle and stir until almost completely dry. If you don't have a flambe ladle, that's OK - just remove the cocotte from the flame and add the brandy from the receptacle of your choice. Replace the cocotte to the flame and stir until almost dry.

Add the flour over the mixture and stir, cooking for about 2-3 minutes just until the raw flour taste is gone.
Simmering Soup
Now start adding your broth. Add it slowly at first to prevent lumping. I doubt this will happen with all these caramelized onions, but you DON'T want to risk it. You've spent a good amount of time chopping and cooking down these onions so don't screw it up now. 

After you've added about 2 cups of broth, add the remainder of the broth and bring the soup to a boil. (It can be beef broth or chicken or a combination, it really doesn't matter.) 

Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes with the lid slightly askew. 

While the soup is simmering, slice the French bread and toast both sides using your preferred toasting method. DON'T BURN IT. 

Now grate the Gruyere. I find that the large grating surface on a box grater works perfectly. However, you may also slice the cheese. This technique also works well and makes a nice cheesy layer over the finished soup. 

However, whatever you do I beg you, please don't cut the cheese. That's so déclassé.

After about 20 minutes, taste for seasoning and add kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to your liking.

Ladle the soup into French porcelain crocks, add a couple slices of toasted French bread on top to cover the entire surface and cover the toasted French bread with a good amount of Gruyere. 

Place the crocks in a pre-heated broiler until the cheese is bubbling and melted.

This happens somewhat quickly, so stay close by. Do not start texting your friends and definitely do not post your French Onion Soup story on Facebook.

Serve ASAP and enjoy. NOW post your story on Facebook.

The Recipe: 

1/4 cup unsalted butter
5 pounds thinly sliced onions
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup brandy or cognac
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups beef broth (Canned broth is just fine, but use a good quality brand without MSG)
3 cups chicken broth (homemade, please)
kosher salt to taste
fresh cracked black pepper to taste
French bread, sliced and toasted
Gruyere cheese

When it's chilly outside and you're craving something delicious and warming, make Soupe a L'Oignon au Fromage. French Onion Soup: It's what’s for dinner.

Cheers, Brad


  1. You know, a decent mandolin isn't very expensive and it sure saves a lot of time versus a knife for that quantity of onions.

    1. SFN, Yes, I do agree. A mandolin would most definitely help with the onion chopping here. Thank you. Brad