Onion Soup Traditions

Onion Soup

Lest anyone think from my earlier post regarding my lack of cookie traditions that we had no culinary Christmas traditions in our family while I was growing up I wish to correct that notion here. We did. Plenty of them. In fact they were the traditions that taught me much about hospitality and great entertaining. Christmas Eve dinner always featured Julia Child’s French Onion Soup. While it was intended to be a casual run up to the main meal the next evening, for me it was my all time favorite meal of the year. Mom was always in the unenviable (yet necessary) position of having to feed the two sides of our family as well as many friends each Christmas and Christmas Eve. Lesson Number One For Entertaining: Choose The Menu Well. French Onion Soup was the perfect choice as much of it could be done in advance and would only require warming, assembly and a quick spot under the broiler before being put on the table.

It was also through this dish that my mother gave me Lesson Number Two: Heaven Is In the Details. If attention is given to ingredients, technique and presentation this simple soup becomes spectacular. Its origin is as a peasant dish served to workers, onions being something that was inexpensive and plentiful. But as is typical of the French, they know how to get the best out of any dish. To achieve its perfection you must follow its traditions. Don’t skimp on the precious few ingredients or on the patience this recipe requires. In the days leading up to Christmas eve my mother would make the home made beef stock from the bones she would talk out of the butcher and broil at home. (She would also took this time to review with me how to do a proper brown sauce and glace de viande in the French manner.) Even the characteristic croutons would be made in advance according to the proper oven dry method and using the best bread she could find. The onions must be cooked painfully slow (and for much longer than the recipe indicates) in order to get to the reddish huge that indicates they have caramelized to perfection and released their burnt sugars.

Onion Soup

Our family no longer has the same architecture that required her to pull double duty for holiday dining. The French Onion Soup tradition has given way to one that features a formal (and glamorous) Christmas Eve dinner of the type my mother does so well. This year in the run-up to the holiday I found myself unexpectedly with a few quarts of home made beef stock, the result of my own holiday entertaining, so decided to revisit this tradition. I cooked up a batch for my man and started our own Christmas Eve Eve tradition for the quiet dinner we enjoy sharing, just the two of us, before our two day Christmas posada (from family to family) takes a hold of us. You can bet we will be doing this one every year!

French Onion Soup

Onion Soup Onion Soup

Onion Soup Traditions

Onion Soup Traditions

This is what you will need:

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (about 2-1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 8 cups homemade beef stock, or good quality store bought stock
  • 1/4 cup Cognac, or other good brandy
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 8 (1/2-inch) thick slices of French bread, toasted
  • 3/4 pound coarsely grated Gruyere

This is how you make it:

  1. Heat a heavy saucepan over moderate heat with the butter and oil.
  2. When the butter has melted, stir in the onions, cover, and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.
  3. Blend in the salt and sugar, increase the heat to medium high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle the flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, let cool a moment, then whisk in 2 cups of hot stock.
  6. When well blended, bring to the simmer, adding the rest of the stock and wine.
  7. Cover loosely, and simmer very slowly 1 1/2 hours, adding a little water if the liquid reduces too much.
  8. Add cognac. Taste for seasoning.
  9. Divide the soup among 4 ovenproof bowls.
  10. Arrange toast on top of soup and sprinkle generously with grated cheese.
  11. Place bowls on a lined cookie sheet and place under a preheated broiler until cheese melts and forms a crust over the tops of the bowls. Serve immediately.

Onion Soup

Previous related post: French Onion Soup Day

About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don't know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]" means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small 'boom' in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a "food blog" or even myself a "food blogger".

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  1. French Onion Soup is my VERY favorite soup, but I only eat it when we go out to restaurants because I have never attempted to make it. Yours looks wonderful and your photos are beautiful. Thank you for sharing your mom’s recipe with us. I would really like to try and make it. I love your soup tureen! 🙂 I hope you had a great Christmas!

  2. when I was younger after the cinema or theater at night this is what we use to get before going to bed : une soupe à l’oignon !!
    Pierre de Paris

  3. Elaine, this is the ONE soup I refuse to eat at restaurants as it never lives up to to standard set by this recipe. (At least not in our burg.)Perhaps its because establishments skimp on the time required to set the onions right with patient caramelizing? Or locoal regulations won’t let them cook with cognac? Both are critical here as the cognac mixes with the onion sugars to make this a bowl of heaven. I do hope you try this!

    Thank you pierre. What a perfect apres cinema supper!


  4. What a lovely tradition! French onion soup is hubby’s favorite, and this sounds heavenly. 🙂

  5. The temperatures have really dipped here, so I am going to get me a bottle of cognac and lots of onions and hopefully will have a chance this weekend to try making your recipe. I hope it turns out!

    I, too, am so glad to have discovered you this year! 🙂