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Print French onion soup

There’s only one trick to this sumptuous classic: time. Riverford Cook Anna advises cooking the onions for up to an hour to achieve melting, caramel perfection, and once you’ve added the stock, they need to simmer for another hour. The taste will prove that it’s not time wasted. Fresh beef stock really does make a difference.


Starter recipes  


  • 35g unsalted butter
  • 1½ tbsp olive oil
  • 500g yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ scant tsp caster sugar
  • 1¼ litres good-quality beef stock (preferably not a stock cube)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 120ml dry white wine
  • 4 slices of crusty bread or baguette
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1½ tbsp brandy, or to taste (optional)
  • 150g Gruyère or Emmental cheese, thinly sliced or coarsely grated
  • Salt & black pepper


  1. Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or casserole on a low heat. Add the onion, a good pinch of salt and the sugar and cook on a low heat, stirring often, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the onion is very soft, golden brown and sweet.
  2. Pour the stock into another pan and bring to a boil. Add the flour to the caramelised onions and cook, stirring, for another few minutes. Add the hot stock and the wine, season with salt and pepper and bring back to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for at least 45 minutes, preferably an hour, stirring occasionally to check it’s not catching. Toast the bread and then rub with the garlic clove on both sides while still warm, then cover each with cheese.
  4. Preheat the grill. Add the brandy to the soup, if using, and check the seasoning. Ladle into ovenproof soup bowls and top each one with a piece of toast. Place under the grill until the cheese is bubbling. If this manoeuvre seems risky, grill the cheese toasts on a baking tray separately then serve them on top of your soup bowls.

Cooks notes

Variations For a lighter soup, use chicken instead of beef stock. Play with the booze: replace the white wine with red or even port; instead of brandy, use Madeira or Marsala (the latter’s good with chicken stock); or add an apple note by using a strong cider in place of the wine and finishing the soup with Calvados or cider brandy. Throw in a handful of sage or thyme leaves or chopped rosemary along with the onions.
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