French onion soup has always been a favorite fall food of mine. It’s warm and comforting and surprisingly satisfying and filling despite having very few ingredients. My favorite part is the bubbly melted cheese on top, and given that Nick can’t stand my very favorite part of this meal, a weekend to myself was the perfect opportunity to whip up a batch. This soup also freezes very well and makes a great make-ahead for lunches too; just add the bread or croutons and cheese when you’re ready to eat.
A lot of French onion soup recipes will use either chicken or beef stock and some vegetarian versions recommend vegetable stock. A traditional, really authentic French onion soup should instead use water. This popular and comforting dish originates from incredibly poor times in 18th century France where water and onions were some of the easiest ingredients to obtain.
To add some more depth to this recipe, I added sherry along with some thyme and bay leaves. I also used cheddar and parmesan cheeses since I had them in the house, however using a gruyere instead of the cheddar would be the more traditional route. Although this is an easy recipe, it takes a lot of time to come together, so give yourself the better part of the day to ready the soup. I cooked the onions down over a period of 5 hours and you can see their progression below:
French Onion Soup
- 2 tbsp butter
- 5 large yellow onions, sliced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup sherry
- 5 cups water
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2-3 dried bay leaves
- Croutons or toasted crusty bread, for serving
- Grated parmesan cheese, for serving
- Grated gruyere, cheddar, or other cheese, for serving
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat; a cast iron or enamel coated cast iron pot will work the best for this recipe. When the butter is bubbly add the onions with plenty of salt and pepper. Cover the pot until the onions start to steam and are heated all the way through, this should take about 3-5 minutes.
Turn the heat down to low and caramelize the onions. This process should take anywhere from 4 to 5 hours, so be patient. Check on them every 45 minutes to an hour and stir. The onions will be ready when they turn a nice amber color and have a very soft texture; they will taste very sweet if you try them.
When the onions are ready, add the sherry, water, thyme and bay leaves. Bring everything up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Serve the soup with the croutons and cheese on top. Ideally, serve the soup in broiler-safe serving bowls so that you can get the cheese bubbly and brown. I unfortunately do not have such bowls and simply waited for the cheese to melt with the heat from the soup, it tastes just as good but the look is not as nice.