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French onion soup

Australian Gourmet Traveller classic entree recipe for French onion soup

By Adelaide Lucas
  • Serves 4
French onion soup
French onion soup

The patient cook wins hands down when it comes to onion soup. Long, slow cooking brings out the onions' natural sweetness, and diligent stirring, every 15 minutes or so to ensure they don't burn, is of the utmost importance. It's probable that such attentiveness, a luxury of modern-day chefs, was not a common practice in bucolic France where the soup originates. The soup, something of a staple in rural households, was little more than water poured over stale bread crusts, the flavoursome bulb added and the whole lot left to simmer for the day. Onions, which grew in abundance and, more importantly, all year round, were the obvious choice for a nourishing meal.

It's unclear when the broth was wed to cheese to become soup a l'oignon gratinée but it's this version that has come to be referred to as French onion soup. Its popularity as the four am pick-me-up du jour for the butchers and purveyors who frequented the bistros around the legendary produce market, Les Halles in Paris, no doubt cemented the soup's reputation as a tonic. Although the market itself is gone, night revellers still seek out the restorative broth all around France. "After a big night out, you either go for a bowl of onion soup, the bakery or straight to bed," says owner of Sydney's La Brasserie, Philippe Valet.

Vigilance rules supreme when creating the sweet caramelised flavour that accents this perennial French favourite.


  • 100 gm butter, coarsely chopped
  • 2 kg onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 litre beef stock (4 cups)
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 3 parsley stalks
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 8 1cm-thick slices of baguette cut on diagonal, lightly toasted
  • 250 gm coarsely grated Gruyère


  • 1
    Melt butter in a large, wide heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, add onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until onions are soft. Remove lid and cook for 1 hour or until soft and starting to caramelise. Add stock, ½ a cup at a time, and simmer for 5 minutes or until stock has almost evaporated. Repeat three times more until 2 cups of stock has been added. Using kitchen twine, tie herbs together, add to onions with remaining stock and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, scraping the base to remove any caramelised bits, for 40 minutes or until thick. Makes 6 cups.
  • 2
    Preheat oven to 200C. Ladle soup into 1½ capacity oven-proof bowls and transfer to an oven tray. Scatter with half the cheese, top each with two toasted baguette slices and scatter with remaining cheese. Place in oven and cook for 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve immediately.


What better place to try this soup than at Melbourne's most Parisian bistro. 11 Toorak Rd, South Yarra, Vic, (03) 9866 8569.This French bistro offers a rich soup made from onions caramelised for up to five hours. Shop 28, 118 Crown St, East Sydney, NSW, (02) 9358 1222.
La Brasserie

  • Author: Adelaide Lucas