French Onion Soup Recipe - Pamela Salzman Skip to content

French Onion Soup Recipe

healthy french onion soup | pamela salzman

If it wasn’t winter before this week, it sure is now. Not in Southern California, of course.  But for the rest of the country.  Although people in LA dress like it’s zero degrees when it’s 55.  It’s totally funny.  I cracked up when I saw this post on Pinterest last week:

50 degrees in California, 50 degrees in Michigan

So I figured that everyone would be in the mood for soup this week, no matter where you live!  I had completely forgotten about this delicious French onion soup I taught two years ago, until my husband asked me to make it.  My entire family, Mr. Picky included, are big soup fans and I love making it.  In general, soups are easy, flexible, reheat well and a good way to consume homemade bone broth, which I am convinced is so healing, immune-boosting and good for digestion.

lots of sliced onions


French onion soup is a classic, and I am not necessarily reinventing the wheel here, just sharing the way I like to make it.  And isn’t that the beauty of cooking?  Figuring out how to tweak recipes to your liking?  I prefer an onion soup that is loaded with onions and with a rich and flavorful broth.  I’ve tasted a few very lackluster onion soups and that is not this one!

healthy French onion soup | pamela salzman

healthy French onion soup | pamela salzman

The key to the broth is good stock and the proper alcohol.  Yes, you can serve soup with alcohol to children since the alcohol is burned off in the simmering process.  My kids have had plenty of alcohol in cooked foods and were not affected in the slightest.  Brandy or vermouth plus some white wine are my favorites.  I do not love this soup with red wine, personally.  Another tip I can offer is using the slicing disc in your food processor to slice all the onions.  It will take you all of 1 minute with no tears to do it this way.  If you have no food processor, get out your best knife and get close (not too close) to a big open flame, like a gas burner on your stove, and slice away.  The flame from the stove will burn the gases from the onions and you won’t cry.  Promise!

healthy French onion soup | pamela salzman

As for the cheesy toast, I personally don’t add the traditional Gruyere toast on top to mine because I can’t eat too much dairy, but my family loves that part.  My son adds toast only, I add chopped parsley, and my husband and daughters love toast + cheese.   I think it makes more sense to toast the bread and melt the cheese separately in the oven than broil it in the soup bowls.  The soup bowls get so incredibly hot and it’s not safe at all to serve such hot bowls to kids (or anyone.)  It’s much simpler to add the melted cheese toast to the soup bowl.  But you can broil it in the bowls, too.  I would serve this with a meal of roasted fish and a green vegetable or just a large, hearty salad.  This soup is all about comfort, warmth and total deliciousness.  One bite is like a cozy blanket wrapping itself around you.  What more could you need on a day like today?

healthy French onion soup | pamela salzman

5.0 from 4 reviews
French Onion Soup
Serves: 6
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 pounds yellow onions (about 6), halved and cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt (double this if your stock is unsalted)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
  • ¼ cup Cognac or brandy
  • 4 cups rich chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 4 cups high quality beef broth (or use mushroom stock or chicken stock)
  • 6 ½-inch slices of baguette or French bread torn by hand
  • 6 ounces Gruyere, shredded (or buy it pre-sliced)
  • a pinch of Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, melt butter over medium heat and add onions. COVER and cook 10 minutes.
  2. UNCOVER, add thyme, bay leaves, salt, black pepper and cook onions until they are very soft and deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. I usually start at medium heat and then when I see the onions start to color, I drop to medium-low and then to low heat. This is the key step in this recipe. If the onions don’t get golden, the soup won’t have as much flavor. But you also don’t want to burn the onions because then the soup will taste bitter.
  3. Stir in the wine and Cognac, scraping the bottom of the pot.
  4. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer, and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes longer. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Taste for seasoning. Keep in mind that if you are adding cheese, you will be adding extra saltiness.
  5. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, arrange the baguette slices or bread pieces on a baking sheet in one layer and bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes.
  6. Preheat the broiler to high and position the oven rack 6 inches from the heat. Either top each piece of toast with a handful of grated gruyere and broil until melted. Divide the soup between 6 bowls and top each soup bowl with a piece of cheese toast. OR place 6 oven-proof soup bowls or crocks on a rimmed baking sheet and fill each with soup. Top with the toasted bread and then the cheese. Broil a few minutes until cheese has melted.
This soup tastes even better the next day! If you want to double this, caramelize the onions in 2 pots. Otherwise it's too many onions at one time.


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  1. Pamela,
    I don’t know if you can see comments from recipes posted two years ago or not but I made this soup tonite and it was delicious. I have so much left over, I was wondering if it can be frozen.

    Thanks always for your wonderful ideas!!


    • Of course I do! Yes, you can freeze this soup. 🙂

  2. Hi Pamela!! I have made this recipe a few times – DELISH!! However, I cannot get my onions super brown. I have used one of my Le Creuset’s – however no luck! Might try a cast iron skillet next time. Regardless – super duper winner recipe!! I am going to try and come on Tuesday night – would love to meet you in person! xx Susan

    • Start the temp a little higher and once you achieve some color, drop the temp down to getting the onions super soft. I would love to meet you, too!

  3. This looks amazing! Is it possible to use Grand Marnier for the Cognac?

    • Glad you asked! Nope. Grand marnier is an orange-flavored liqueur and I don’t think that would be a compatible flavor here. You can skip the brandy if you don’t have it, but it does make the soup better.

  4. This was the perfect soup to make on this snowy, blizzard afternoon on Long Island! The wonderful aromas filling my kitchen really added to our anticipation of this really wonderful dish. It was so rich and flavorful and the cheese toasts are the perfect accompaniment. Now I definitely will try it for company…such a sophisticated dish. Thanks again for another knockout recipe!

    • Hooray! Such a cozy way to make it through the wicked weather. Stay warm!

  5. Hi Pamela,

    After making a pretty fair onion soup (my family has lived in France for many years) for quite some time, I decided to try your French Onion Soup recipe. It was absolutely FANTASTIC!!! The broth was superior to any other onion soup I can recall. It’s a great idea to cook the onions with salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf, and deglazing with the cognac and wine gave this broth a flavor that was deeper and richer than any other onion soup I’ve had, and I’ve had ’em all over France and the U.S. This is truly a great re-invention, and the only way I’ll be making this from now on.
    We’ll be thinking of you the next time we pass through MB…

    • Well I am so flattered coming from an onion soup expert such as yourself! Thank you for the very generous comment, Jamie. 🙂

  6. Hi Pamela,

    I am so excited to try this recipe out. It sounds and looks divine !!!!!!!!

    My question is, I live in a Muslim country so we generally don’t use alcohol in our food, what would you suggest subbing the alcohol with?

    Also, can I use the chicken stock cubes? (I am not sure if you’re familiar with them, the brand I typically use is called Maggie, and it’s a form of chicken stock paste shaped like cubes. It is pretty flavorsome.)

    Thank you

    • HI Jojo, No problem! I do think the alcohol adds a nice depth, but the most important flavor comes from caramelizing the onions, so feel free to use more stock in place of the alcohol. Normally I am not a fan of stock cubes or bouillon because they are generally loaded with preservatives and MSG. Try reading the labels to make sure. If it’s clean, then great. Otherwise, I don’t recommend using them. There’s a recipe on my site for homemade chicken stock 🙂

  7. Hi Pamela,

    My partner is vegan and loves all the things I make for us from your website. It has been pretty easy to ‘veganize’ most of recipes – minestrone soups (summer and winter), lentil and rice soup, vegetable chili, all the oat cakes and cups – even the shrimpless coconut and basil vegetable sauce.

    He LOVES onions, and would really enjoy an onion soup. But I’m stumped how to even begin to substitute pretty much everything on the list except the onions, thyme and alcohol 🙂

    • Hi Ariel! So what you’re looking to sub is the butter and stocks and cheese, correct? I would go with Earth Balance or olive oil for the butter, mushroom stock (Pacific Foods is a good brand) and/or Imagine vegetarian chicken stock, and there are lots of good vegan cheeses, depending on where you live. That said, like I mentioned in the post, I don’t even do the cheese on mine. I think even with those subs, it will still have a very authentic flavor. Just get those onions nice and caramelized!

      • Thanks Pamela – I’ll go hunting for those recommendations!

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I come from a large Italian-American family with 28 first cousins (on one side of the family!) where sit-down holiday dinners for 85 people are the norm (how, you might ask – organization! But more on that later …).

Some of my fondest memories are of simple family gatherings, both large and small, with long tables of bowls and platters piled high, the laughter of my cousins echoing and the comfort of tradition warming my soul.

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