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The Best French Onion Soup (…ever!)

The last recipe I posted for French Onion soup was from Cook’s Illustrated and the soup came out great. So when I saw that they had an updated recipe, I had to give it a try. The big change between the recipes was that the updated version calls for caramelizing the onions in the oven rather than on the stove top. This change lets you get a lot more flavor out of the onions and means you don’t have to stir the onions every minute. They call this, “The Best French Onion Soup,” and after trying it, I can’t argue!

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The Best French Onion Soup

From: Cook’s Illustrated

Serves 6

Notes:

For the best flavor, make the soup a day or 2 in advance. Alternatively, the onions can be prepared through step 1, cooled in the pot, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe.
Ingredients:

Soup

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 3 pieces
  • 6 large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices (Make sure you get Yellow)
  • Table salt
  • 2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (They recommend Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth )
  • 2 cups beef broth (They recommend Pacific Beef Broth)
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme , tied with kitchen twine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons

  • 1 small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)

Directions:

For the soup:

  1. Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with a nonstick cooking spray. Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, for 1 hour (the onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove the pot from the oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring the onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
  3. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pot bottom is coated with a dark crust, roughly 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.)
  4. Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping the pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the broths, 2 cups of water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot.
  6. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.

For the croutons:

  1. While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven until the bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

To serve:

  1. Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyère. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Equipment Used:

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633 thoughts on “The Best French Onion Soup (…ever!)

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  4. OMG so very good. My Dutch oven was only 3.5 so thought I would half the recipe but as I was cutting the onions it just did’t look like enough, so I used a 4 lb bag and the 3tbs butter ( cause you can’t go wrong with butter). I followed the directions until it asked for the sherry, used the full half cup and cooked it off as per the directions and then did it again just because. I made the adjusting on liquid and cooked for the 30 minutes. It looked like it had cooked off too much liquid so I added another cup of chicken stock and a 1/2 cup of beef … Let me tell you it was better than any restraunt French onion soup I have ever had! I can’t wait to try it in a couple of days complete with the croutons and cheese! This will become one of me staples, thanks to whomever came out with this one. Job well done!!!!

    • I was very disappointed in this recipe. Followed everything exactly except I tried a double batch. After I left the lid open for the second round in the oven, my onions began to burn (1 hour and 20 minutes). I could smell them and pulled the dutch oven out.

      Unfortunately, the burned onion taste stayed with the soup. Also, adding the 2 cups of water really made the soup very weak. I would NOT recommend adding that but instead just sticking with the beef and chicken broth.

      Overall, very disappointed with the recipe. It took me a long time to peel and cut up the onions and it did not come out well. I may try and modify the recipe, but really don’t think I will make it again.

  5. Made this last night, true to recipe – I would not say it’s the “best french onion soup”, by a far cry – not for our tastes, at least. We like our french onion soup to be beefy and onion-y. I, like others above, were surprised by the sweet-factor…ugh. Everything was going great until the sherry. Then, when done, I had to rescue it with a bunch of beef better-than-bullion and Worcester sauce. In the end, it was delicious, but not because of this recipe. I LOVE the oven/deglazing idea though and will certainly use it in my own rendition when I make it next. I think I’ll use a stout beer instead of the sherry, only beef broth, and certainly some garlic in there somewhere! Yum! Can’t wait!
    Oh – and smoked gouda on top is amazing!

  6. Lovely recepie
    I wonder if i i Can make it in a big pot and not in small cups , i have to transport it a long Way , and there Will be 20 People
    Thanks for a great recepie

    • Of course you can make it bigger. I’m a chef and I know it’s a matter of doing the math :-] You want for 20 people , use 7 or 8 lbs of onions and go from there :-]good luck

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    • Hi Amy,

      It’s sweeter, because it’s not really French Onion Soup, it’s American Onion Soup and we’re in the land of sweetness.

      In France it’s made with dry white wine, and only true beef stock, which unlike American canned stocks, would not have sugar in it.

  9. Well…this DOES take a long time! It was very good – not sure the best ever but very good. I followed the recipe exactly as instructed – no changes or additions. I figure that is the only way to accurately judge a recipe. To me, it needed a little more salt – not much but a little. I’ve made homemade French Onion soup before and I don’t remember the onions taking so long to caramelize…not sure it was worth all the effort for this one…my hubby concurs.

  10. I’ve made it. It’s deliciosus :) .It took me almost 2 hours to deglaze all my onion which was 1.2 kg, but it was worth it. I love the taste. Thank you for recipe.

  11. I never comment on recipes. I barely ever cook, and I wouldn’t say that I’m good at it. I originally fell in love with French Onion Soup when I ate a superb one at a restaurant once. After that, I found a recipe and tried to make it, but it came out too thick and the flavors weren’t all spot on… it wasn’t bad, but I was willing to try one more time with another recipe. I found this recipe, and made it….. it TRULY is the best recipe, for sure! It tastes EXACTLY like the one I had in the restaurant when I first fell in love with French Onion Soup.

    I didn’t have the time to do the whole oven thing, so instead I sauteed the onions on the stove; they browned and everything very nicely. I did find that I did not have close to the “thick crust” that the recipe mentions, just a bit of soft brown. I also think that the process of deglazing with the water is key and genius; the first recipe I tried didn’t have that and it came out too thick, the deglazing gave it the liquidity and soupiness it needed.

    A NOTE FOR ALL KOSHER COOKS:

    I used pareve chicken stock (comes in a soup-box) and pareve beef stock (comes in these little squares).
    I used mozzarella cheese instead of Gruyere.
    ALSO – Kosher sherry (at least the Kedem sherry) has a kind of vinegar taste to it; I originally put it in but didn’t like how it tasted so I basically drowned it out with 2 cups of dry white wine. Next time I’m going to just skip the sherry and just do the wine.

  12. I love this recipe. I have used Marsala (of all things) instead of the sherry, with excellent results. and I like to add in a red onion, also, for a bit of bite. I make this at high altitude with no noticeable changes. Everyone loves it. Like someone else said, it freezes great, it “cans” well, and I like to make it the day ahead to let it sit overnight, then continue to the croutons step on the following day before serving. Thank you Cook’s!

  13. great recipe but I add a few things. When I brown the onions I also shred some carrots (very few) and add those for sweetness. I also add a shot (small) of Worchestershire sauce. Enjoy!

  14. I made this soup and thought it was much sweeter than the ones I’ve had in restaurants. Is there another onion variety that I might use that would be less sweet?

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  16. Made this yesterday, with a roast and baked potatoes.. lots of leftover……….roast and potatoes but these was less than 1 cup of soup leftover,, just enough for me for lunch today… it was a BIG hit.. and since I was in the kitchen anyway making dinne and doing the busy stuff one does in the kitchen it was perfect,, I will make sure to keep all the ingredents on hand for a day when the snow keeps us indide,,, and for those who feel the onions got TOO dark,,, use lower temps when deglazing and i will be pefect…. yummyyyyy

  17. I love this recipe. It does make the best French onion soup. I think it is the multiple caramelizations that adds the depth and richness. You cannot believe when it is done that there are only three tablespoons of butter in the whole pot. You would swear there was at least a pound of butter in there it is so rich. Seriously. I use my own stock, but I filter it first to get it nice and clear. The key is the yellow onions. They caramelize out to be as sweet as sweet onions, but they hold up better in the process. Fall is here so soup’s on!

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  19. Carmelizing in a pan on the stove works more than good enough. You want to use the same pan your carmelizing in so when you deglaze with some wine you will get all the flavors from the pan in the soup. Same would go for stocks, etc… No need to use an oven for onion soup. You will make this a good or bad recipe. Adjust to what you have and everything will come out well.

  20. I love french onion soup Recently had major dental work done and its something soft enough I can eat itIve just never cooked it myself Cant wait to try this recipiesounds much better than the soup Ive been getting at Panera

  21. IT WAS PERFECT THE VERY 1ST TIME I MADE AND EVERY TIME AFTER. MAKE SURE YOU ARE USING AN ENAMELED OR STAINLESS STEEL POT.

    • Hi, I would guess that you are slicing the onions too thin. Try making thicker slices and cooking at a lower heat. That should fix the mushy problem.

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  23. I have made this twice and haven’t got it to come out very good. I think the problem is in the carmelization/deglazing process. I think I may be geting the onions too carmalized, almost to the burnt stage. The last time I made it by the time I got to the third deglazing the onions were a very, very dark brown; not quite blackish-brown, but very, very dark. Almost too dark I thought. Now the question is – Is it important to get through thoses 3 or 4 deglazings or is the endpoint just to get the onions a dark brown whether it takes one or two deglazings? Perhaps I have the heat too high and need to lower it some more (it is on low to medium low). Oh….also by the time I got to the third deglazing, the onions were almost mushy in consistancy. Is that the waty they are supposed to be or am I slicing the onions too thin?
    Thanks for any help.

    • Caramelized onions should be soft, but definitely not mushy. I would say you are slicing them too thin.

      Also, the recipe says the onions should be very dark brown.

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  25. Finally got around to making this soup—I couldn’t wait to try it! It is just as good as you promised. We enjoyed it with a great pinot noir…

  26. I will try this recipe but am wondering if the onions can be caramelized in a crock pot, then finish the soup in that pot….what do you think?

    • A crock pot can be an excellent choice. The main differences between types of contact heat sources is conductivity and surface texture. The critical component here is sufficient heat to caramelize the onions and this will depend on the individual slow cooker. Temperature must reach 210-230 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on certain variables.
      I have achieved excellent results by leaving the onions with almost no stirring for up to ten hours. Just keep an eye on them the first time you do this.

      Resist the idea that deglazing must be done several times. Any experienced cook should understand why this is absurd.
      Deglazing here is necessary if the heat is high enough to create a crust on the surface of the pot. But the temperature range between caramelization and forming a crust is wide, and you may need only minor deglazing when the stock is added.

      Finally, use real stock. Canned stock will result in canned soup. There is no comparison.

    • I made a variation of this over the weekend. I used sweet onions and cooked them on the stove top for a couple of hours yesterday with some water. Then refrigerated over night. This morning I put the pot n the oven, lid on, at 350 degrees for an hour then took the lid off and increased oven to 400 degrees for another hour. This finished carmelizing the onions in then removed the pan (dutch oven) to the stove and deglazed with sherry and 1/4 cup red wine. I made my own chicken stock which I added along with 1/2 cp frozen veal demi glacé stock instead of beef broth. I added about double the thyme and simmered for about half an hour.

      The croutons were sourdough baguette sliced n a dias and grilled n olive oil on both sides on a panini. Then topped with shredded gruyere and parmesan cheese and under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Delicious!

  27. Yet another great example of time=taste!

    I’ve made this dish two times so far and will be making it a third time next week for my fathers birthday. He thaught me how to make onion soup and ever since i’ve been working to improve his recipe, but i’m pretty sure this is going to be the version i’ll learn my kids.

    I made only one little ajustment to the recipe: i replace half of the thyme with lavender. It creates a whole new layer of flavour which suprises people. They will love it, but they wont know what it is, until you tell them.

  28. This was a excellent recipe. I followed it to the letter…except (there’s always an except)Swanson puts out a “unsalted” not low salt stock both in the chicken and beef which I used.Also I like my onion soup chock full of onions so next time I’ll add another 4-6 depending on size.But aside from those minor changes….worth the time in the kitchen.

  29. I have to say, I’ve made this recipe at least 3 times. It is very time consuming but well worth it. It isn’t salty and the flavor is wonderful. I’ve had people try it who say it’s the best they have ever tasted. For those of you who have troubles, I’m thinking maybe you rushed the cooking? You don’t need to tend too much, but it takes a good 5 hours of cooking time and needs patience. This is the number one recipe in my book. And, now I know why it costs upwards of $6 a crock in a restaurant. We skip some calories by eliminating the bread and having a small amount of reduced fat swiss instead. But try it and adjust as you need to. It really is fabulous. Thank you for sharing. It’s a number one in my book.

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  32. I have never made french onion soup before. I substituted provolone for the gruyere cheese and this was absolutely the best onion soup I have ever eaten. I will definitely make it again. A little time consuming, but I cooked other stuff while I was making it! I highly recommend this recipe!

  33. I was disappointed, my onions turned black and I had to discard them. I would recommend a lower temperature as my onions turned black while I still supposedly had another 1/2 hour or so to go.

    • I would check Herbs response below not all ovens are accurate ,you could go to the Cook’s website they have a recommended oven thermometer and the correct way to learn how to get a proper reading. (You can join for free for 2 weeks) These people are maniacs when it comes to making,testing,and tasting things to perfection.
      I have used them as my go to source in the kitchen for decades

  34. I will have to defer to Julia Childs recipe…She adds cognac to finish it off and she also makes a roux after browning the onions. This adds more flavor, and of course thickens the broth. She also adds a cup or so of wine (red or white) for additional flavor. This is not to say that Cooks suggestion of browning in the oven doesn’t work, I am sure it does. I personally like to brown my own onions so I an control the darkness et. al. Julia also added the cheese directly to the bowl, added more on the top, places it in the oven and baked it. This is amazing too. Try the Cognac, I know some of you have already. I just put a tsp in each bowl. These are my thoughts only…

  35. have not used this recipe but something similar. have problems getting the taste just right. not enough bite in it or just missing something. used all same ingredients. any suggestions?

    • The solution is to make real broth. This recipe is fine once you do that. There just no other way. To try to make French food with Swanson and Pacific products is like making a Bentley with Naugahyde and a ‘genuine’ Formica wood burled dashboard.

      What this recipe will get you is “French style” food. There’s a reason French cooking is admired the world over. The French know how to cook, and take the time to do it. Making stock is fun, easy, and cheaper. And at the same time you can make enough for a Bourguignon and a brown sauce for later.

      You can do it.

  36. “Remove the pot from the oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring the onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.”
    When I returned the pot to the oven w/the lid slightly ajar, and came back after an hour to stir again (I was out shoveling snow), my onions were black! Was I supposed to lower the oven temp?

    • I’ve used this method numerous times with excellent success (minor changes to the broth to add depth). Never once have I had black onions. Do you think your oven temp is too high? An oven can be 50° off in some cases. A simple oven thermometer will tell you and they aren’t that expensive.

  37. Incredible recipe. Oddly enough, I’d been thinking I would love to make French Onion Soup, IF ONLY I didn’t have to stand there and stir the onions, and wondered if I couldn’t carmelize the onions in the oven. Then…I found this! It is so easy and so delicious. I can truthfully say, it’s the best French Onion Soup I’ve ever made, or eaten anywhere at any time. How’s that for an indorcement? Bravo

  38. I made this recipe for our family Christmas Dinner…It was fantastic!!!!!! LOVED IT! I make a good french onion soup but with the baking of the onions and the ingredients that the recipe called for was really the BEST I’v had!!!At first I was not going to use all the onions (its a lot) but glad that I did since they bake down so much and I’m glad that I made it 3 days before..the favor was right there,,,!!! Thank-you so much for the recipe……its a keeper!!!!!!!!!!

  39. I made this for my birthday celebration and it turned out fantastic. I bought prime rib bones (they were cheap) and made my own beef stock so the flavor was rich and lovely with much less salt. Cooking the onions in the oven was great! I will cook batches of carmelized onions and freeze them for future use using this method. LOVED IT and so did my guests.

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  42. I made this over Thanksgiving – nothing like a major holiday to test drive a recipe, I always say. Anyway, it came out very well. I made rather a lot, and we found that the flavours were enhanced after 3 days in the ‘fridge. I am making it again for Christmas, and I will do it on the 23rd so it is suitably matured. Very nice recipe. Thank you.

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