French Onion Soup

By Tatiana Pietrzak

Onions in ancient times, as well as now, were a cheap, plentiful and easy to grow vegetable. So, no wonder why it was food for poor people. Onion soups were popular at least as far back as Roman times. Some say it is a dish over 8,000 years old. Food culturists also claim that onions clean the blood and are a very nutritious item. The crouton in the soup is reminiscent of ancient soups. Other developments along the way eventually created the delectable French dish known around the world as French Onion Soup.

The First Alteration

A recipe for onion soup first appears in Taillevent’s 14th – century cookbook Viandier. It called for thinly sliced onions in butter. Then it is topped with a pea puree and water or verjus. Verjus is a liquid of pressed unripened green grapes. They are gathered from vineyards before ready for using for making wine.

The Modern Version

Paris in the 18th century called for beef broth and caramelized onions. Meat stock, onions, often croutons or larger pieces of bread covered with gratinéed cheese floating on top made up the recipe. The New York restaurant of Henri Mouquin introduced it to the U.S. in 1861. Mouquin’s wife Julie was the chef. The chef often finished it under a salamander in a ramekin with croutons and the cheese Comté melted on top. Caramelized onions were and still are deglazed with Brandy, Sherry or white wine.

This dish became popular in the U.S. in the 1960s due to greater interest in French cuisine.


It is said by some that King Louis XV had nothing in his cupboards except onions, butter and champagne after a hunting expedition. He and his great aunt threw it all into a pot, and violά, French Onion Soup was first made. This is hard to believe though because a king’s cupboard would be stocked full.

Another version is that Nicolas Appert, the father of food preservation and inventor of canning, made it in his kitchen of La Pomme d’Or in Chalon-en-Champagne. One night he made it for the Duke of Lorraine, ex-king of Poland Stanislas Leszczynski. The King stopped at the restaurant on his way to see his daughter Queen Marie, wife of Louis XV. He studied how it was made and then made it for his family. Appert later dedicated the soup to Leszczynski in his cookbook of 1831 by calling it Soup ὰ la Stanislas. Hence, the court fell in love with it.


At some point it was discovered that the soup covered up the smell of drinking the night before. French households developed it as a means of a hangover cure. Today it is still considered to be so with using Comté or Gruyère cheeses. These cheeses have a strong odor.

French Onion Soup


½ cup unsalted butter

2 Tbls. Olive oil

4 cups sliced onion, moon shaped

4 cans beef, vegetable, or mushroom broth

2 Tbls. dry sherry

1 tsp. dried thyme

Salt and pepper TT

4 slices French bread

4 slices melting cheese such as Gruyère

2 slices melting cheese such as Provolone or Fontina, diced

1 Tbls. Parmesan cheese


Melt butter with olive oil in an 8-quart stock pot on medium heat. Add onions and continually stir until caramelized. About 40 minutes, occasionally stiring.

Add beef broth, sherry and thyme. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add beef broth, sherry and thyme. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven broiler.

Ladle soup into oven safe serving bowls and place one slice of bread on top of each. Layer each slice of bread with a slice of Gruyère, 1/2 slice diced Provolone or Fontina and 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese.

Place bowls on cookie sheet and broil in the preheated oven until cheese bubbles and browns slightly.



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