Julia Child's French Onion Soup with Homemade Beef Stock
Updated: Oct 29
Hi internet. I hope you've been doing well. I've had a lot going on in my life. I came out at work as my new name and pronouns...! It went well. I also have been spending a lot of time cooking French onion soup.
French onion soup is a popular French recipe that involves lots of caramelized onions in beef stock, with a piece of toasted bread on top, all covered with cheese. It's extremely delicious and something I'll willingly get allergic for.
It's recommended to use homemade beef stock for the best results. This is the most time-consuming part. In this post, I'll cover making beef stock, and then go over making the soup. The entire process takes 2 days: 1 full day for the stock, and a separate day (about 3 hours) using the stock to make the soup. Those days don't need to be consecutive because the stock should last in the fridge for 4-5 days, or in the freezer for longer.
Homemade Beef Stock
Making beef stock is ultimately a very flexible process because all you need is enough beef bones, and some vegetables and herbs. I decided to go full-out-French though, so I used a French beef stock recipe.
-5 lb of meaty beef bones (preferably at least 1 marrow bone, and some neck/back bones)
-1 carrot, unpeeled and cut in half
-1/2 brown or yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
-2 tomatoes, quartered
-1/2 tbsp coriander seeds or ground coriander (I couldn't find the seeds in my grocery store)
-1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
-1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
-1 celery stem, cut in half or thirds (leaves are OK)
-2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
-2 thyme sprigs (or 1/2 tsp dried leaves)
-12 parsley sprigs (optional)
-3 liters of cold water
-One large baking tray or 2 medium baking trays
-One large stock pot and one large other pot
A note about the beef bones
Many grocery stores offer beef bones for stock. These are lot cheaper than buying regular beef bones. So I recommend doing that, and just making sure you have at least 1 marrow bone and some bones that have some meat on them, so that your stock is rich enough.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place your bones on a baking tray or multiple baking trays. You do not need to put any oil on the trays. The bones will render plenty of fat on their own.
Once the oven is preheated, pop the baking tray(s) in the oven and put a timer for 30 minutes. (The bones will roast for one hour total.)
After 30 minutes, take your bones out of the oven and turn them over, then place them in the oven for another 30 minutes. You can also increase or decrease the temperature of the oven at this point. Feel free to lower it to something like 390 degrees, or increase it up to 430 degrees. It really depends on the size of your bones and how well they're roasting. After an hour of roasting, they should look well browned. Take them out of the oven.
Place the bones in your large stock pot, making sure they are packed in efficiently and closely. Discard any of the fat in the baking tray(s) that was rendered. Turn your burner on to medium heat underneath the baking tray. Place 3/4 cup water into each tray. When the water starts simmering, start deglazing your pan by using tongs or similar to scrape off the drippings. Then turn off your burner and pour the drippings into the stock pot. This is a two-birds-one-stone situation because you add richness to your stock by adding the drippings, while cleaning your baking trays.
Prepare your ingredients for the stock and place them in the stock pot, along with the cold water. Turn the burner on and let your stock heat up till it starts boiling. (This will go faster if you cover the pot.) Then turn to low heat so that your stock is barely simmering, uncovered (just some small bubbles).
As you can see, my stock has a ton of scum on the top. Scrape that off as best you can. You will have many chances to eliminate the scum later on in the process too. My stock looks like this after removing a lot of the scum:
Let your stock simmer for 9 hours. Once in a while, check the stock to make sure that none of the bones are poking out, and to remove scum or fat that rises to the top.
Once the 9 hours are done, turn off the heat. This is what my stock looks like at the end.
Remove the beef bones with tongs and then use another large pot to strain your stock into. The strainer will catch all the loose meat, vegetables, and herbs. You should be left with a liquid.
The next step is to cool your stock by submerging the pot in cold water. Find a pot that your pot of stock fits into. (It can be the stock pot you just used.) Fill the larger pot most of the way up with cold water. Feel free to add ice cubes to the cold water - this will speed up the cooling process. Then place your pot of stock into your larger pot. The goal is to have your pot of stock floating in the larger pot, but obviously you don't want to fill up the larger pot with too much water, or else it will get into your stock.
Below you can see my stock is cooling, which leads the fat on the top to start solidifying.
Replace the cold water in the larger pot whenever it gets warm. When your pot of stock is room temperature, you're done with the cooling process. Measure out your stock - the goal is to have 1.3-1.7 liters. If you have more of that, you can reduce the stock by letting it boil the same day you make your soup. If you have less than that, you can add the appropriate amount of water to your soup.
Refrigerate your stock, covered. (You can also freeze it.) Congrats, you made stock!
French Onion Soup
This recipe is adapted from Julia Child's recipe.
-Beef stock (1.3-1.7 liters)
-1.5 to 2 lbs of yellow onions, sliced thinly
-1 tablespoon cooking oil
-2 tablespoons butter
-1/2 teaspoon sugar
-1 teaspoon salt
-3 tablespoons flour
-1/2 cup wine (dry white wine or vermouth; I used vermouth)
-12 oz swiss cheese (I like gruyere)
-4 oz parmesan cheese
-2-3 tablespoons cognac
-1/2 raw yellow onion
-8 slices French bread, about 1 inch thick (I used a baguette)
-4 tablespoons olive oil
-Salt and pepper
-One large-ish pot
-Box grater or similar
-Oven-safe bowls. This is very important, because not all bowls are oven safe and may shatter if you try to bake with them. Check the bottom of your bowls - if they are oven safe they should be labelled as such on the bottom.
Take out your stock from the fridge and scrape the fat from the top. Discard the fat (or use it for cooking at some later point if you're a psycho).
Slice your onions thinly. When you're done, heat your pot over medium-low heat and add cooking oil and butter. Swish them around the pot and let the butter melt. Then add your onions. Mix around your onions so that they get evenly coated with the butter and oil. Then cover and let them cook for 20 minutes. I like to check on them every 5 minutes or so to mix them around and make sure the bottom's not burning. At the end of the 20 minutes, uncover and let the onion steam hit you. The onions should be reduced and translucent.
Turn your burner to medium-high heat. Add the sugar and salt to the onions and mix it in. In this step, you need to wait until your onions caramelize, reducing and turning brown. This involves frequent stirrring, especially later on in the process, so that your onions don't burn. This process takes me around 15 to 30 minutes, depending on my burner heat level.
While you're waiting for the onions to caramelize, do the following:
Start heating your stock over a burner. It will turn from gelatinous to a liquid pretty quickly.
Slice your French bread and place on a baking tray. Drizzle on both sides with olive oil.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
Here are my onions at my desired level of caramelization:
Next, lower the burner for your onion pot to medium-low. Add the flour to your onions and stir, trying not to let the flour burn. Let cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Your onions will turn into a sort of paste.
Add one cup of your now-warm stock to the pot. It will sizzle. Use something like a spatula or tongs to scrape off any browned bits from the onion caramelization. Then add the rest of the stock and wine to your pot. Let simmer for 30 minutes, and place your bread in the oven. The bread also needs 30 minutes, and should be turned halfway through.
While you're waiting, grate your 1/2 raw onion, and few ounces of your swiss cheese. I like to grate 4 ounces, leaving 8 ounces for a later stage in the cooking process. Here are my grated cheese and onion. I took this picture to show you the setting I use on my box grater.
Remember to turn your bread 15 minutes into the baking process. Your bread and soup should be ready at the same time. Take out your bread and turn off the burner for your soup. Taste your soup and add salt and pepper to taste. Then add in your grated onion and swiss cheese, and cognac.
Take out your oven safe bowls and place in a baking tray. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
This recipe makes about 5 cups of soup. My oven-safe bowls comfortably hold 1 cup of soup, which means that I can serve up to 5 people, 1 per bowl. Since I don't cook for large groups of people, I only prepare one or two bowls at a time, leaving the rest of my soup and bread in the fridge for later.
With each bowl, ladel the soup in, leaving some room. Place one or two pieces of toasted bread on the top, and then cover the soup and bread with grated parmesan cheese. You need 4 oz of parmesan cheese total, so if your bowls are like mine, place about 0.8-1.0 oz of cheese into each bowl.
Then grate your swiss cheese and place on top of the soup, making sure to cover the bread. I use 1.8-2 oz of swiss cheese per bowl.
Place your baking trays in the oven for 30 minutes. Then broil on high for2 minutes, and then take your trays out of the oven and let the soup cool for at least 5 minutes before eating.
So, why did I place the cheese in this order? The swiss cheese melts and bakes in the oven more beautifully in the oven than the parmsan cheese. So if you want a pretty cheese topping to your soup in the end, it's better to cover the parmesan with swiss.
Here is the soup after I ate some of it, so you can see underneath the cheese:
My heart sings for this soup. It is definitely the fanciest and richest thing I've ever cooked. The beef broth is so good and rich. The onions are sweet in a complex way. The parmesan and swiss are a killer combination and they offer a really mouthwatering texture. Soup needs bread and the bread here is built in, offering yet another texture.
The full soup is around 3580 calories. With my bowls, that's about 900 calories per bowl.
This soup is chock full of protein because of the copious amounts of cheese. 44 grams of protein per bowl for me. That's almost as much protein as I need in a day.
Did I go slightly insane spending full days at home making stock and slaving over French soup? Yes. This isn't even my day job. It's pretty cozy having stock just simmering away in the background, smelling good, while you're coding, though.
I hope someone reads this long-ass post. I will be back soon to cover more recipes.