Quick easy French onion soup

Quick, Easy Onion Soup

Achieve real depth of caramelised onion flavour quickly thanks to a quick hack

Normally, French Onion Soup is not a quick dish to make. The key to a good onion soup comes from the main ingredient, the onions, which need to be cooked down to become sweet, sticky, salty and delicious. Well how hard can it be? It’s not hard but it’s time consuming. The caramelisation of the onions takes time – on average 45-60 minutes to get really caramelised onions and this is what gives the soup it’s distinctive complex flavour.

Who’s got time for that? This recipe has a secret trick to cut that time down by over half. How? I’ll show you how to hack the caramelising step so you can serve up a delicious, deep flavoured soup in under 35 minutes.

What goes into a French Onion Soup

The savoury base

The main ingredient is, as the name suggests, is onions. Traditionally white (or sweet onions) or brown onions are used however you can use a mix of red and shallots. Using red onions or shallots will make the overall soup sweeter (although this does depend on other factors such as how deep you caramelise the onions). You can also add garlic after you have finished caramelising the onions however this is optional.

The broth

Traditionally beef stock is used however you can use veal stock. Store bought stock (or broth) is perfectly fine for this, however ensure that you buy a good quality beef stock that you trust. This soup can easily be ruined by an overly salty, ‘yeasty’ beef stock (sometimes labelled ‘rich beef stock’). For best results use home made beef stock – discover our recipe below:

Some recipes online call for chicken stock/broth, however I’ve found that the flavour combination just doesn’t work and overpowers the onion flavour.

In France, a lot of recipes call for just water in lieu of a stock. If you do this the final soup will be thinner so you will need to add 1 table spoon of flour near the end of the caramelisation phase to help thicken it up.

Finally, wine is needed to add depth of flavour to the soup. Red or white or a mix of both is fine! I personally prefer red wine in my French Onion Soup.

Optional ingredients

  • Balsamic vinegar: This is down to personal taste, if you feel that the final soup is too sweet (perhaps you used red onions or shallots) add some. The acidity will help balance the sweetness.

  • Woody herbs: A sprig of Thyme or rosemary can be added after you’ve added the beef stock if you want a more herby final soup.

  • Garnish: Finely chopped up chives or parsley add a nice green contrast to the final soup!

Where did French Onion Soup originate from?

Onion soup can be dated back to ancient Rome, however French Onion Soup as we know it today (with grilled bread topped with cheese) originates from the 18th century.

It’s unclear to where the true French Onion Soup recipe actually comes from but there are two claims. The first is that King Louis XV had been out all day hunting and came back to his lodge and felt rather hungry. They found that there was nothing to eat and the only ingredients on hand were onions, butter and wine. The cooks added them to a pot and they came up with Onion Soup.

The second story claims that the soup came from the kitchen of Nicolas Appert (who invented the canning process to preserve food). The story suggests that Stanislas Leszczynski (the ex King of Poland) visited Appert on his way to Versailles and they ate together. The kitchen had prepared an onion soup and the king fell in love with it. He then went on to refine his culinary skills and eventually wrote a cookbook in 1831 including a recipe onion soup à la Stanislas.

Today French Onion Soup is served all over France and you’re almost guaranteed to find it in a good bistro. It’s also a popular home-cook recipe and perfect to help a hangover after a night of drinking natural wine!

Now back to the cooking…

So, how is this a quick recipe?

The most important and time consuming process of making a good onion soup is to caramelise the onions. You can of course make an onion soup by sweating down the onions and browning them slightly on a high heat, however it won’t be the same. It will miss the characteristic sweet, savoury flavour that a true onion soup has.

Caramelising onions (the process of cooking down the onions and releasing their natural sugars) normally takes from 45 mins to 1 hour and requires a lot of time spent next to the stove to ensure the onions don’t burn. Burning or scorching the fond (the stuck brown bits on the bottom of the pan) can ruin the soup before you’ve even got to adding the liquid. One way this recipe helps to avoid this is by ensuring that the onions are cut uniformly. To do this it’s important to slice the onions from pole to pole rather than than perpendicular to an imaginary line running through the poles. You’ll end with much more uniform slices and it’s been shown that by doing this, you’ll rupture less cells which results in a milder, sweeter onion flavour.

Wilting onions with water to accelerate the browning process

Now we’ve cut our onions uniformly, it’s time to start cooking. To accelerate the caramelisation process, we add a bit of water to the pan and when it reaches a boil, we then add a lid. Why? Normally when you start sweating down your onions, you’re effectively wilting the onions, breaking cell structures and releasing water within. When doing this with just fat, it takes a long time for all the onions to ‘wilt’ uniformly. Steaming the onions rapidly wilts them down and then all you need to do is let the water boil away so only the fat that you added with the water is left. This process should take around 10 minutes. Once the onions start frying you’ll start the darkening and caramelising the onions.

Quick onion soup 10 minutes of browning
Onions after 10 minutes of caramelising

The photo above is 3 medium onions after 10 minutes of frying in fat. The photo below is the result after 20 minutes, at this point they are sufficiently caramelised to add the wine and stock.

Onions after 20 minutes of caramelising

The next steps are quick – simply add the wine to deglaze the pan ensuring that you scrape all the brown bits off the bottom. Reduce the wine and then add the stock.

The caramelised onions with the wine and stock added

Now you just have to simmer for a few minutes and then add to an oven proof bowl. Add one or two baguette slices and top with a mound of grated cheese and grill!

Quick, Delicious Onion Soup Recipe



2 servings

Prep time

5 minutes

Cooking time

30 minutes


261 kcal

What you’ll need


3 onions (this can be a mix of white, yellow or red onions)
1 litre of Beef stock (from stock cubes or fresh)
100ml of white or red wine (or 100ml of a mix of both)
1 knob of butter (30g)
100g of grated Comté or Gruyere cheese
4 slices of stale baguette

Optional ingredients

A sprig of thyme (to add once you’ve added the beef stock)
Chives to garnish


  1. Remove the top and the root of the onions and remove the skin. Slice the onions thinly (5mm wide) from pole to pole and reserve.
  2. Add the sliced onions to a lidded pot or pan. Add the butter and water and bring to a boil and cover with a lid.
  3. Let the onions steam for 4-5 minutes or until they are transluecent.
  4. Remove the lid and let the water boil off – you’ll know when this has finished when the sound changes to sizzling.
  5. On a medium-high heat, fry the onions whilst stirring frequently until they are a rich golden brown.
  6. Add the wine to deglaze ensuring that you scrape the fond (the sticky bits on the pan) off and reduce. Then add the beef stock and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Add the soup to oven proof dish, top with stale baguette slices and a mound of grated cheese and grill until golden on top.
Quick easy French onion soup
The final French Onion Soup

Can you freeze onion soup?

You can freeze the soup base (i.e without the bread and cheese) no problem. Simply add the soup (after having been chilled in a fridge) to a zip lock bag and seal. For best results you should squeeze all the air out before sealing. To defrost, simply place the bag into a bowl of lukewarm water.

What cheese to use for onion soup?

Traditionally French Onion soups are covered in a mound of either young Comté or Gruyère cheese.

Comté is a French cheese originating from the Franche-Comté region of France – close to the Swiss border. It’s an AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) unpasteurised cows cheese and is incredibly popular here in France. The younger Comté cheeses are mild and slightly nutty in flavour whereas the aged varieties (18-36 months) are drier and much stronger in flavour.

Gruyère is a Swiss cheese originating from the Canton (region) of Fribourg. Gruyère is a cows milk, AOP cheese which is slightly sweet, creamy and nutty (although slightly salty at the same time) and like Comté, makes it an excellent cheese to be added to the top of an Onion Soup before grilling.

You could also use Provolone, Fontina or Monterey Jack. Avoid using goats milk cheese or mozzarella.

Can you make this onion soup recipe in advance?

Yes you can make the soup base (up to the end of step 6) and reserve in a covered contained in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Is onion soup good for you?

Not particularly. The butter and cheese mean that the overall dish is quite high in saturated fats. However the onions are high in anti-oxidants (from flavonoid) and they do contain large amounts of Vitamin C.

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