French Onion Soup

This year David was on call for Thanksgiving, so we’re delaying the bird roasting and trimmings until we have time to relax and enjoy cooking. We did want to have a nice meal, though, so we made a big batch of French onion soup. I looked at several recipes including Julia Child’s onion soup from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but in the end closed the books and did it my way. 

We generally stockpile bones from de-boning roasts and remains from lamb chops and other bony cuts in the freezer.  We keep two BIG freezer bags in the freezer, one for poultry bones and one for beef & lamb. When one of the bags is full, it’s time to make stock.

I’m not including explicit directions for making lamb stock.  This recipe from Marilou Suszko in Mother Earth Living seems most similar to my ingredients and prep after a cursory search on the internet, but because our stock is more or less always made from the leavings of other meal prep and bones that were left after meals, the ingredients vary from batch to batch.

In our stock there are always marrow bones, always a bit of raw meat. We’ve tried roasting the bones, and I personally don’t find that adds anything but time and fuss to the end result, so now we don’t bother. Sometimes we have organ meat, always carrots and onions and celery. Generally garlic, sometimes fragrant herbs, particularly rosemary and thyme. Usually pepper. I don’t generally add much, if any, salt, since the stock will be concentrated and it’s easy to make it overly salty.

Stock is a step in the process, not an end result, so I try not to add much in the way of seasonings besides the meat and the veggies. The rest of the flavor will be developed in the final recipe, and too much tampering with the stock can restrict its eventual use.

One thing I do differently from the cited recipe is simmer covered overnight on very low heat, then strain in the morning and reduce the resulting broth to about 1/4 the original volume.  This makes a very strong soup base that can be closer to a gel than a liquid.

Our stock is generally frozen straight out of the pot into two cup and one quart containers for later use. The French Onion Soup we made this year for Thanksgiving was made from three batches, and became three gallons of soup.


Note: I’m giving the recipe for about a gallon of soup. We made three times this much, so I’m fudging and working from memory, but soups are forgiving. I recommend using this as a stepping off place for your own soup experiment.


  • 2 quarts of stock
  • 1 bottle of chardonnay white wine
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp grated garlic
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp nutmeg, or grate one medium nut
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • salt to taste

Put the stock and wine in a big pot on medium heat, cover it, and start warming it. When it starts to simmer, turn heat down to keep it just barely bubbling.

Skin the paper off the onions and trim the ends, discarding the trimmings. Cut them in half from top to root, then finely slice each half so you end up with long, narrow strings of onion.

Melt butter and oil in a pan.  

Add the peppers, and cook til the butter browns, then add the onions.

Cook them over high heat until they start to soften.

Add remaining ingredients except the salt, then reduce the heat to low and cover.  Simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until the onions are extremely soft and starting to brown.

Add the onions to the soup and allow it to keep simmering on low for several hours.  We left ours overnight.

To serve:

The soup will get ladled into individual servings, have a slice of toast floated on each, which is covered in Gruyere cheese and then melted under a broiler.


  • 1/4 lb Gruyere cheese, grated or sliced
  • One slice of toast for each serving


  • Single serving oven safe bowls or ramekins
  • Cookie sheet to transfer bowls into and out of the oven (and catch melted cheese)

Turn on broiler.

Ladle soup into bowls and place them on cookie sheet.

Float a piece of toast on each, and cover with cheese.

Place under broiler until cheese begins to brown

Serve immediately.

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