What I love about traditional French onion soup is that no stock is necessary for this soup. It's just onions, water, seasonings and patience. You're basically making onion stock, flavoring it with salt vinegar and a splash of wine. The most expensive part of this dish is actually the cheese, and it is pricy—but only about $3 per serving.
And there is nothing better to eat on a cold winter night. The following recipe is adapted from my book Ruhlman's Twenty (a James Beard award winner, in fact). It's a swell gift for someone who's learning to cook and loves to cook because I try to break down all of cooking into 20 basic ingredients and techniques.
I'll post process shots after the recipe.
Traditional French Onion Soup
- 1 tbls butter
- 7 or 8 large Spanish onions (or 7 to 8 pounds)
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup sherry
- red or white wine vinegar optional, as needed
- red wine optional, to taste
- 12 ounces Gruyère or Emmanthaler cheese, grated
- Use a large pot, with a capacity of about 7 ½ 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.The
One of my favorites! If you ever get to Philadelphia, be sure and have a bowl of French onion soup at Parc restaurant. It’s not $3 but it’s the best I’ve found anywhere.
Great French food and a fun place to sit outside like in Paris. Trout almandine,croque madame & steak frites with the best fries.
The wife loves this soup, but makes me cook it outside because she hates the smell of all the cooked onions.
nice, thanks allen.
I've never seen the onions for onion soup quite so pale. Blonde onion soup? Tasty still, I'm sure.
good call! I forgot to take a picture of the finished onions! That said, even pale, they're really good. If they get too dark can actually be too sweet!
I can remember when I learned that Thomas Keller didn't actually write The French Laundry cookbook- some guy named Michael Ruhlman did. Since, I've picked up "Ratio" and "20" and they're great reads and excellent references. The book that really touched me though was "Soul of a Chef". Forget Fernand Point and Escoffier; "Soul of a Chef" should be required reading. (Did you know Julia Child actually adds sugar?)
thank you! and jesus, no, sugar?
I'm not even sure how I landed here, because I was just looking for a pic of Michael's kitchen, that I had seen somewhere, and wanted to see his hanging pans, but I laughed outloud at David Strong's comment, and got distracted and had to comment, myself.
No offense, David, but why not try it before you weigh in? 🙂
I didn't even have any idea who Micheal Rhulman was (or James Beard!), until I googled "French Onion Soup without beef broth", two years ago, because I just KNEW there had to be such a thing!
And I was so thrilled, when I eventually found this recipe!
I ended up buying 'Ruhlmans Twenty' kindle edition, right then, and ordered two hardcovers, two days later.(One was a gift.)
All I can say is that if you like and crave real food - that tastes the way it SHOULD - you should try this soup.
I don't even usually add the bread and cheese(!), and it's to die for.
thanks! hope you like it! I'll comment on the color of the onions, only 2/3rds cooked!
I can vouch for both this recipe (incredibly delicious) and the book - it made me THINK about cooking. (Not coincidentally, chapter 1 is titled "Think".)
The best onion soup I ever had. It was a hit at Christmas brunch. Another mike Rulman masterpiece. Thank you so much
This is certainly not the first time Michael has written about French Onion soup. I've made it as presented in 'Ruhlman's Twenty,' and it did not disappoint.
You cook with all of your senses, not only vision. You will smell the onions cooking down, and you can taste them - and know that you are making something delicious. (In the case of French Onion soup, you will listen to make sure you're not boiling things to death, and smell to make sure you aren't burning anything.)
Or, as Michael has also described it, you need awareness in the kitchen, not just passion.
What type of sherry?
I can only think of Jacques Pepin's advice about 'cooking wine' -- "If you would not drink it, why would you cook with it?"
yes, a drinkable inexpensive dry one. could use marsala or just red wine and season with vinegar.
This is a great recipe! Fun to make too. I tried adding some shallots after a few hours for depth too. Is there something other than sherry that can be added to the broth? Final was excellent but a little sweet (I didn’t try adding vinegar). Maybe some alcohol not as sweet as sherry but not sure what. One other thing I’ve made this several times but can never get the cheese to form a “seal” of the bowl, completely covering the soup and dripping down the sides. By the way the very best French onion soup by far I’ve ever had was at Cafe Jacqueline in San Francisco, also vegetarian. Closed now sadly.
So ... today I wanted to make this for dinner but got a late start.
Got the onions all sliced up and into my big Staub pot. Threw in the salt, and the liquid started coming out.
I decided to try something, I ladled the onion juice out of the big pot into a 2 qt pot, and let it boil down to almost a syrup, and then added it back to the onions. I was afraid to let it go too far and burn it !
First - that caramelized onion sauce is delicious
Second - I wonder if I actually sped up the process or not. I felt like it was making more progress! Sort of like choosing to take side streets instead of sitting in traffic on a highway. You don't always get there any faster but you are moving 🙂