French Onion Soup Is the Perfect Warming Dish for Winter—Master the Recipe at Home with Our Step-by-Step Guide
Wouldn't you like a bowl of French onion soup right now? It's cozy, comforting, and feeds the soul on a cold day. Eating the cheese toast-topped soup is like enjoying a bowl of rich, deeply beefy onion soup and a grilled cheese. French onion soup is a bistro classic that you might have enjoyed at French restaurants or, if you're lucky, on trips to Paris, but it's actually quite simple to make at home. It does take time but most of that time is hands-off. It's a wonderful weekend project or an ideal dish to make it during breaks while you're working from home—at the end of the day, you'll be rewarded with a warm, earthy soup that soothes and satisfies.
Our recipe is pretty straightforward. It calls for sweet onions, such as Vidalia, which have more sugar content and caramelize better. That's important, because caramelized onions are key to French onion soup. Three pounds of onions yields six servings of soup; living up to its name, this recipe is heavy on the alliums. Caramelizing the onions requires low and slow cooking, between 50 minutes and an hour in total. You're aiming to draw off the moisture rather than brown the onions. You want them to be meltingly soft, almost soupy before they start to turn golden. If they do start to turn color before then, reduce the heat.
One the onions are caramelized, we use vermouth to deglaze the pan, but if you don't have any on hand, white wine can be used instead. You'll find that vermouth is handy to have in the refrigerator, though, because you can use it for cooking, cocktails, and enjoying as an aperitif. Next, the beef stock is added along with 1/3 cup Marsala or Madeira or another sweet wine such as port. Why? Because the sweet fortified wine adds subtle notes of warm baking spices like nutmeg to the soup. You can skip this booze but it adds another layer of flavor. Once the stock and wine are added, the soup simmers for 45 minutes, but it's all hands-off time. Then it's ready to serve and it's time to make the essential cheese toast-toppers. Gruyère is what you need here. It's renowned for its melting abilities and is the cheese most often used for French onion soup as well as for fondue.
Ladle the soup into broiler-safe serving bowls, like the crocks so frequently used in bistros. Add a slice of baguette to each portion and top the bread with grated Gruyère. Broil until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and golden brown. Pro tip: Set the bowls on a rimmed baking sheet, this makes it easy to put all six under the broiler at once and ensures no soup spills in the oven. Be sure to serve it bubbling hot. If you don't need six portions at once, freeze individual portions in pint containers, without the cheese toasts. Then all you have to do is bring a portion to a simmer in a saucepan, transfer it to a serving crock, and top with toast and cheese to broil so you can enjoy a bowl of French Onion Soup when you come in out of the cold.
Homemade Beef Stock
Why make your own beef stock for this recipe? Sure, you can use store bought but we developed this French Onion Soup recipe along with a recipe for homemade beef stock that truly takes the soup to the next level. If you think that buying the ingredients and making the stock is too much work, we say try it: Make the soup using your usual store-bought stock and with homemade and see which version tastes best. As for what makes our stock so deeply flavored, so tremendously beefy, is the fact that we roast the meat and vegetables before simmering them. Then, the long, slow cooking on the stovetop allows the marrow and collagen to break down producing a real deal bone broth. The end result is a big pot of stock that makes enough for several meals and freezes beautifully.
Pro Tip: To remove the fat without skimming, refrigerate the stock until it floats to the top and solidifies, then lift it off with a spoon.
Recipe and food style by Greg Lofts; Prop styling by Suzie Myer.