French onion soup. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Without question, French onion is my favorite all-around soup. It’s a satisfying, nourishing meal. Not only does it have all the components of a meal—a nutritious broth, a vegetable, cheese, bread, and a big glass of a big red wine—it’s also got all the textural components that satisfy: it’s soft, voluptuous, gooey, chewy, and, if the cheese is properly browned, crispy. It’s an easy and economical soup. And best of all, it requires no stock, either homemade or store-bought. Yes, the best onion soup is made with water alone, seasoned at the end with wine and, if you wish, a few drops of vinegar.

And we’re using this great soup to announce a month-long special offer on our offset soup spoons and offset serving spoon (I especially love how their being offset prevents spoons from slipping off the edge of a bowl or serving dish and into the food).

I can’t stress this enough: Water alone make for the best, cleanest onion soup. This is at heart a peasant dish, after all: water, the humble onion, day-old bread, cheese. No fancy stocks required. Just onion cooked way, way down and water to pull out and distribute the complex flavors you’ve developed in the onions. The key is to take good care browning the onion. Don’t try to rush them. Just start them in a big heavy pot or Dutch oven—I salt and cover them so that they begin to drop their abundant water more quickly—and let them cook away, stirring occasionally, whenever you pass the stove or the aroma of their cooking draws you to them.

And here’s a great tip: once onions have been cooked down, their cell structure broken down, they can be frozen for a quick weekday meal whenever you need that. That’s why I always urge people to make a double batch when taking the time to brown lots of onion.

Can’t be bothered with reading the whole recipe through? Sit back and watch me make onion soup with Martha Stewart (who very kindly gives my other beloved spoons a plug).

Cool weather is on its way and with it, onion soup.

Traditional French Onion Soup

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 7 or 8 Spanish onions (7 to 8 pounds/3.2 to 3.6 kilograms), thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 to 12 slices of baguette or any country-style bread (it’s best if they cover the width of your serving bowls)
  • 1/3 cup/75 milliliters sherry
  • Red or white wine vinegar (optional)
  • Red wine (optional)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound/225 to 340 grams Gruyère or Emmanthaler cheese, grated
  1. Use a large pot, with a capacity of about 7 1/2 quarts/7.1 liters, that will hold all the onions. An enameled cast-iron pot will provide the best surface. Place the pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the onions, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, cover, and cook until the onions have heated through and started to steam. Uncover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally (you should be able to leave the onions alone for an hour at a stretch once they’ve released their water). Season with several grinds of pepper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200°F/95°C. Place the bread slices in the oven and let them dry completely (you can leave the slices in the oven indefinitely, as the heat is not high enough to burn them).
  3. When the onions have completely cooked down, the water has cooked off, and the onions have turned amber—this will take several hours—add 6 cups/1.4 liters of water. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Add the sherry. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too sweet, add some vinegar. If you would like a little more depth, add a splash of red wine. I like the onion-to-liquid ratio with 6 cups of water. But if you’d prefer a slightly more delicate soup, add an additional 1 cup/240 milliliters water or to taste.
  4. Preheat the broiler (be sure you’ve removed the bread from the oven!). Portion the soup into bowls, float the bread on top, cover with the cheese, and broil until the cheese is melted and nicely browned. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6


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© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.