french onion soup au gratin – hard core classic

by Michelle

French Onion Soup never gets old. No matter where I am in the world, if I see it on a  menu and after an encyclopedia of questions for my poor unsuspecting server, I order it. I need to know it’s the real thing.

french onion soup au gratin l

Sunday evening we hosted our first Christmas dinner party for what feels like forever. Time being limited, I chose a classic menu. No pimping anything up. Just hard core simplicity. It was delicious! French onion soup to start, chicken paillards in green peppercorn sauce, hasselback potatoes, asparagus and chocolate mousse for dessert.

french onion soup au gratin l

In an effort to stick to my promise of posting more than once a year, I’ve decided to show you the warts in my kitchen and when I’m cooking. In the past, I’ve happily spent hours staging every shot. I wanted to share beautiful photography with you not show you my dirty dishes. Now, I realize messy kitchens are just as interesting as staged, probably more so. So here you have it, French onion soup while I eat my breakfast on Sunday morning.

french onion soup au gratin l

French onion soup is a mixture of sliced onions and beef stock, toasted baguette topped with grated Comté or gruyere cheese. It’s gastronomic roots are in the kitchens of Ancient Rome, prepared for the first time over 8,000 years ago. It popped up in restaurants across Paris in the 18th century and the rest is history.

french onion soup au gratin l

My French Onion Soup strays away from beef broth and the type of cheese for the topping. I prefer a rich poultry broth and a combination of Gruyere, emmental and mozzarella cheeses to create the gorgeous gooey crust.

My spin let’s the depth of the caramelized onions shine brighter, however I would never turn my nose up at a beef broth version.

french onion soup au gratin l

I use an old fashion hand grater with large holes to grate the cheeses. This gives me big shards of cheese that can stand up under the heat of the broiler. Hot, gooey clumps of cheese trumps a desiccated cheese topping.

Give yourself a few days to make French Onion Soup. The broth needs time on the stove and in the fridge. Removing the fat from the stock after it’s chilled is critical. No one wants an oil slick in their mouth from greasy broth. Once your homemade broth is ready, the onions will need a couple of hours over a low heat caramelizing.

As an appetizer or main course French Onion Soup is a crowd pleaser. Once made, you can stick it in the freezer until you need it for up to six months. Honestly, mine never lasts the night.

french onion soup au gratin l


  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 to 5 pounds), remove any paper or big fat globs inside the bird
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 carrots, scrubbed and cut in half
  • 2 celery stalks (with leaves if possible), cut in half
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed open, skin removed
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 stems fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • water to cover chicken – at least 4 quarts


  1. Place all the ingredients in a large stock pot over medium high heat.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for four hours, skimming any scum from the top of the broth.
  4. Remove from heat, strain solids from the stock. Discard the vegetables. The chicken can be used for soups, etcetera
  5. Allow stock to cool uncovered.
  6. Once cool, cover and place in fridge overnight.
  7. Discard fat that forms on top of broth


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 medium onions, thinly sliced – 6 cups
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced – white part only
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup cognac
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white vermouth
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  • 8 thick slices French bread
  • soft butter
  • 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces emmantal cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated


  1. Melt butter over medium heat in a large stock pot.
  2. Add thinly sliced onions and saute, stirring often, until they start to colour.
  3. Stir in minced garlic. Make sure you are working over a very low heat. Cook onion and garlic mixture for up to three hours or until very golden.
  4. Sprinkle flour over onions and stir in well.
  5. Deglaze the onion pot with cognac then light on fire to burn off the alcohol.
  6. Add the stock, vermouth, dried thyme, bay leaves and Dijon mustard
  7. Stirring often, heat until very hot.


  1. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  2. Heavily butter 8 thick slices of French baguette then place them on a parchment lined baking sheet
  3. Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly toasted.


  1. Preheat broiler on high
  2. Mix the cheeses together in a large bowl.
  3. Ladle soup into prewarmed bowls.
  4. Float croutons on top of each bowl then divide cheese between the bowls.
  5. Place the bowls on a large baking sheet and place under your broiler until cheese in bubbling.
  6. Place soup bowl on a napkin lined serving plate.

THE LOVE: Do not skimp on timing or ingredients. Take your time and use lots of cheese!

Thanks for reading.