Classic French Onion Soup

Classic French Onion Soup


The word ‘Restaurant’ derives from the French verb restaurer, meaning to restore. First used in France in the 16th century to describe the thick and cheap soups sold by street vendors advertised to restore health.

In Paris, 1765 an enterprising Monsieur Boulanger opened a shop selling soups. The sign over his doorway read ‘Come to me, all who labour in the stomach and I will restore you’. This led to the use of the word restaurant to describe shops of this type.

Like any new venture his wasn’t a simple path to success. His initial attempts to add stew to his list of soups brought on legal attempts to close him down by a number of Parisian traiteurs (people who ran cookhouses). Fortunately he prevailed and it wasn’t long before ‘restaurants’ combined both soup and other food courses.

His soup shop was still far from what we consider a restaurant to be today.  While there were restaurants in some form or other in Paris during the decades preceding the French Revolution, it was this historical event that provided the social conditions for the evolution of the restaurant as we know it today. A restaurant boom occurred through the elimination of restrictive guild rules coupled with the large number of chefs entering the labour market who have previously been employed by the aristocrats who lost their heads. Opening up new opportunities for chefs to open their own establishments.  

Delving deeper, historians have found evidence of soup dating back to around 6000 BC. Boiling food was impossible prior to watertight containers being discovered enabling cooking over fires, initially clay pots. Cheap and easily grown and stored, onions were seen as the poor mans food.

Another generally accepted story to the precursor of French onion soup is that King Louis XV on returning with a party of tired hungry hunters to his hunting lodge found the contents of the larder to be bare other than butter, onions and champagne. His clever cook (possibly a woman) combined the ingredients creating the first French Onion Soup.

The modern version of French Onion Soup has evolved from a basic recipe and is equally enjoyed at home by the French as well as being served at the most refined of French Restaurants.

The secret to success, the defining difference between a good and a great soup in this classic French dish we believe, however lies in the finishing touch. Its the lightly grilled gruyere on top that adds an entirely new dimension putting the French into French Onion Soup. There are many variations to the recipe and most French chefs are steadfastly reticent to share their own particular secret ingredients to this classic French soup – here is ours.


Prep time 15 mins      Cooking time 45 mins      Serves 4-6    Store in fridge for several days/freezable


50g butter

1 tblsp olive oil

4 large brown onions thinly sliced

1 clove garlic crushed

1 tblsp sugar

2 tblsp red wine vinegar

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1/3 cup plain flour

½ cup dry sherry

1 cup dry white wine

500mls beef stock or consommé

1 ¼ cups water

pepper & salt to taste


As well as:

1 small French bread stick (cut into 2cm rounds)

2 tblsp olive oil

1 clove garlic crushed

1/3 cup grated gruyere cheese



Heat butter and olive oil together in a large frypan.

Add onions cook approx. 20 mins over low heat stirring occasionally until brown.

Add garlic and sugar, stir through until sugar has browned.

Add vinegar, thyme, pepper and bay leaves, cook 2 minutes.

Sprinkle flour over the onions, cook stirring for 1 minute.

Stir in the sherry, white wine, stock or consommé, salt and water.

Continue stirring until mixture boils and thickens, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for approx. 25 mins.

Preheat oven to 180.

Combine extra olive oil and garlic and brush over both sides of bread.

Decide on how you wish to present and serve either individually bowled or the classic French way in individual ramekins.

Classic French – transfer soup into oven safe bowls allowing enough room at the top to place the bread rounds on top, sprinkle with gruyere cheese, ladle a spoon or two on top and put under the griller to brown lightly.   Serve.

Individually plated – place bread rounds on foil, sprinkle gruyere on top, grill lightly as above, then transfer onto ladled soup bowls.   Serve.

ADDITIONAL HINTS:  It is important that the onions are well browned to give the soup an authentic flavour, the sugar helps to caramelise the onions. Start with full heat for the initial cooking then reduce to medium heat to brown the onions slowly.

French garlic bread sticks prepared in this manner can also be served with many other soups and are an excellent addition to a Lobster Bisque soup, Bouillabaisse – an extra suggestion – add a generous coating of mayonnaise before adding the gruyere.