RECIPE

This cheesy, no-tear French onion soup is ready in under 30 minutes

An easy hack for chopping onions means you can make this classic soup and save your eyes, too

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published January 27, 2022 1:29PM (EST)

Onion Soup (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Onion Soup (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

In "Quick & Dirty," Salon Food's Mary Elizabeth Williams serves up simplified recipes and shortcuts for exhausted cooks just like you — because quick and dirty should still be delicious.

When I was in high school, our French teacher would periodically take us in to Manhattan to see artsy movies at the Alliance Française, followed by food and conversation at La Bonne Soupe. I thought it was the most sophisticated, comforting place in the world — a position that remains largely unchallenged all these years later. It was the restaurant's famed onion soup that cinched it: a thick, bubbly bowl of bronzed alliums with gruyère draped over the whole business like a blanket.

Making onion soup home at home, however, never held any appeal. There seemed not a single element of the cooking process that didn't sound like a huge pain in the neck. All that chopping and caramelizing. All that cryingNon, merci!

But lately, I've been craving a little piece of Paris — or at least of midtown Manhattan, anyway — in my own kitchen. By cobbling together a frankensoup that relies on the easiest and fastest tips I could find, I wound up with a cozy dish of cheese and onions sans the watery eyes.


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The most revelatory part of this recipe is a hack too insane sounding to be true. I'd already cut up two onions when, with tears streaming down my face, I Googled some tips for surviving the rest of the process. I didn't like the idea of running my onions under cold water, and I don't own safety goggles. Then I read a trick that sounded like it had to be an old wives' tale: Stick a piece of bread in your mouth. As the Greatist observed, "The spongy texture of the bread seems to have absorbed some of those noxious chemicals before they had the chance to attack my eyes."

I grabbed a thick piece of brioche from beside the toaster and stuck in my mouth like I was Ralphie from "A Christmas Story" being punished with a bar of soap. And I did not cry. There's varying consensus out there about whether this method is BS or not, and I can't attest to the effectiveness of other types of breads here (maybe it's a brioche only thing). All I know is that I will never chop onions any other way again.

RELATED: Ina Garten's sheet pan trick will change how you make bacon

The other magical element here comes from baking soda, which unbelievably speeds up the caramelization process. While I always stand by the slow cooker method of cooking onions, Serious Eats' J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's technique is nothing short of miraculous. It's especially handy if you didn't happen to decide this morning that you wanted onion soup tonight.

For maximum crunchy-oozy effect, I've put extra cheese at both the bottom and on the top of the bowl here. You could, of course, use your most expensive gruyère from the local fromagerie. I picked up all of my ingredients at Target, and everything turned out beautifully. Now that I know how easy this is to make, next time, I won't shed a single tear.

***

Recipe: No Tears French Onion Soup
Inspired by Martha Stewart and Serious Eats 

Yields
4 servings
Prep Time
10 minutes
Cook Time
25-30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 medium yellow or white onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 cups beef broth, or 3 cups beef broth and 1 cup red wine
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme 
  • 1 small baguette, sliced into rounds
  • 1 package Swiss cheese slices (7 ounces)

 

Directions

Step 1
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the sugar. Let the sugar melt, about 3 minutes.

Step 2
Add the onions and stir, using a wooden spoon, to coat with the melted sugar. Add the butter, baking soda, salt and pepper. Stir occasionally, for about 6 - 8 minutes.

Step 3
Add 2 tablespoons of water and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all of the brown bits. Stir, adding water one tablespoon at a time, as needed for another 3 - 5 minutes. You should have a soft, dark, jammy pan of onions.

Step 4
Add the broth (or broth and wine) to the pan, along with the thyme. Lower the soup to a simmer.

Step 5
Preheat your broiler.

Step 6
Arrange the bread slices on a large sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Top each round with 1/2 slice of cheese (or as much as you want).

Step 7
Broil the toasts 3 - 5 minutes, until golden.

Step 8
Place a slice of Swiss cheese in each bowl, then pour the hot soup over it. To serve, top with at least two cheesy bread rounds.


Cook's Notes

You can easily make this soup vegetarian by reaching for mushroom or vegetable broth. Also, feel free to experiment with different kinds of melting cheeses here. 

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Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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