French onion soup, those little pots of slow-simmered onions and bubbling cheese, warms our bellies on cold autumn days. While I’ll always have a place on my table, in my belly and in my heart for other favorite cold weather soups like curried lentil soup, egg drop soup with duck and slowcooker chicken soup, there’s something special about French Onion Soup.
I make it frequently in winter – combining the mountains of onions we purchase in bulk each autumn from regional farms with homemade beef stock (though, if I’m lucky enough to have it, I prefer using pasture-raised veal stock). I float a thin slice of day-old no-knead sourdough bread in the fragrant soup, top it with a smattering of Gruyere cheese, bake it and serve it with another winter staple: homemade sauerkraut.
Broth: the Base of a Good French Onion Soup
If you’ve read Nourished Kitchen for any length of time, you know how deeply I value real, homemade broths, bone broths and stocks. My husband and I typically consume about a quart (each) a day, in soups and stews, in gravies and pan sauces, and on its own with a sprinkling of chopped garlic and minced parsley. And it’s this love of the simple beauty of broth that leads me to emphasize soups in my cooking – whether it’s French Onion Soup or another.
Long-simmered broths made of meat scraps, bones, skin and cartilage play a role in culinary traditions around the globe where they were valued for their nutritive and restorative properties. Soups made from long-simmered bones, vegetables and a bit of cut-up bone marrow or meat, featured prominently in the daily meals of the Swiss villagers of the Loetschental Valley, while African villagers emphasized bone broths in the nourishment of mothers, babies and small children (you can read more about these practices in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston Price).
Extraordinarily rich in minerals and easy-to-assimilate proteins, broths and stocks do much more than provide a base for soups, stews and sauces; rather, they support systemic wellness in a way few other foods hope to achieve. Rich in collagen, they support skin health and digestive system function. Rich in minerals, they provide an alternative source of calcium for those who avoid dairy by necessity or choice; further, the calcium in broth is more bioavailable than that of leafy greens whose calcium is often bound by oxalic acid. (Read more about the benefits of bone broth including how they support the adrenals, bones and teeth as well as the classic piece Broth is Beautiful).
How to Make (or Where to Buy) Bone Broths
Bone broths, broths and stocks are easy enough to make at home. In its simplest form, a good bone broth can be nothing more than bones simmered in clean water for a long time. Vegetable scraps, herbs and spices add flavor, while vinegar or wine can help to leach minerals from the bone and into the broth. While meat broths and traditional stocks can take a few hours to make, bone broth can simmer for days or, in the case of perpetual stock – even a week or longer as you dip in and out of the slow cooker.
For those of you that haven’t the time, interest or desire to make your own long-simmered bone broths, you can order real bone broth online (see sources) as there’s a smattering of artisan producers who have just recently made their broths available for retail sale. It’s a long sight better than storebought bouillons and canned broths, but you’ll spend a lot more than you would by making it at home.
Sweet with the flavor of long-simmered onions, this French onion soup also takes a savory note from reduced beef stock, bay, black peppercorns and thyme.
- 1 tablespoon grass-fed beef tallow (available here or substitute clarified butter)
- 1 pound yellow onions, peeled and sliced thin
- 3/4 pound red onions, peeled and sliced thin
- 1/4 pound shallots, peeled and sliced thin
- 1 teaspoon unrefined sea salt (availble here)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 teaspoon smoked black peppercorns (available here)
- 1 1/2 quarts beef stock
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4 slices day-old sourdough bread
- 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
- Melt the tallow in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium-high heat, then stir in onions and shallots. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in salt. Cover and sweat the alliums, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent - about 10 minutes.
- While the alliums sweat, tie bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns together in a piece of cheesecloth or a small muslin bag, and add it to the pot. Stir in beef stock and wine, then simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes or until the stock is reduced by 1/3.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Ladle into oven-proof soup bowls (like these.) Top with a piece of day-old sourdough bread and 1 ounce shredded Gruyere cheese. Cover and bake for 20 minutes, then serve.