david lebovitz’s french onion soup (from ‘my paris kitchen’)

david lebovitz onion soupSOME ONIONS WON’T LAST—you know, the ones whose tops didn’t brown down thoroughly before harvest, and may still look more like a scallion’s stalk. Solution: onion soup, specifically David Lebovitz’s onion soup from “My Paris Kitchen,” one of his popular books (and you can enter to win a copy in the comments box at the bottom of the page).

It’s a soup you can make and enjoy now, or freeze, depending on how many willing yellow onions you can get your hands on, and on whether you can resist eating it all right away. With my first bowlful, I didn’t even manage to wait long enough to melt the cheese on top of the recommended toast. It just smelled too inviting as-is (or was), and then, suddenly, gone.

copyright David LebovitzIf you haven’t met David Lebovitz, the story, in brief: In 1999, he left Chez Panisse and a career in the restaurant business. He moved from San Francisco to Paris—where he jokingly says Belgian endive is so inexpensive as to be the French version of “trash” lettuce, and reports there are more than 1,260 bakeries. Packing up little more than his best skillet, cookbooks and trusty laptop, David turned to writing, and his 2011 memoir, “The Sweet Life in Paris” (Amazon affiliate link), one of nine books to date, became a “New York Times” bestseller.

His website is likewise a hit (and has a monthly newsletter I enjoy).

No wonder. Besides having a way with food, he is a delicious storyteller, too, always layering in the essential ingredients of humor, tenderness and accessibility—even when he’s “remastering the classics” as is the stated goal of “My Paris Kitchen.”

He leaves his mark on coq au vin and croque-monsieur, cassoulet and lamb tagine, and delicious frites (made in the oven, a nod to the fact that most of us don’t have a deep-fryer in the kitchen the way French households often do). And there is dessert, of course; David was for many years a pastry chef. To the chocolate-dulce de leche tart, the salted butter caramel chocolate mousse, and coffee crème brulee, I say, help me! But there are simpler choices such as madeleine, too.

And there is the French onion soup—but not with beef stock, as is the tradition. David uses chicken stock, specifically homemade. (Small example of David humor: On his website FAQ page, he answers the inquiry about, “Finding Canned Chicken Stock in France” with, “You can’t.”)

I’m a vegetarian, so I skipped the chicken stock that David suggests in his recipe notes below, using vegetable instead (or half water and half vegetable stock if the stock is insistent-flavored). And as I said, I skipped the cheese, at least the first time around, as you can see in my monastic photo at the top of the page, compared to the positively elastic, in-action one from David’s book just below. Now seeing his version, who can resist this recipe from “My Paris Kitchen“?

 copyright My French Kitchen french onion soup (soupe à l’oignon)

recipe below copyright by David Lebovitz, from “My Paris Kitchen;” photo above from the book, copyright Ed Anderson (used with permission).

Serves 6

By David Lebovitz

Beef stock is thought to be traditional in this soup, but it’s heavier, and I rarely have beef stock on hand, so I use chicken stock. For a heartier stock, you can roast the chicken bones in a 400ºF (200ºC) oven on a baking sheet for 30 to 45 minutes, until well browned, then use those bones to make the stock.

soup ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/55g) unsalted butter
  • 2½ pounds (1.2kg) yellow or white onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt, plus more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (180ml) white wine or sherry
  • 2 quarts (2l) chicken stock
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar, plus more if needed

toast ingredients:

  • 6 thick slices hearty white bread, or about 18 thick-sliced pieces of baguette, well toasted
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole, for rubbing the bread
  • 3 cups (255g) grated Emmenthal, Comté, or Gruyère cheese


1. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.

2. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and continue to cook for 1½ hours, stirring less frequently and decreasing the heat to avoid burning as the onions continue to cook down. (You may wish to use a flame diffuser if your cooktop doesn’t allow low enough heat.)

As the onions cook, if they brown on the bottom of the pan in places, use a spatula to scrape those appetizing brown bits into the onions because they’ll add flavor. The onions are done when they have collapsed into a thick amber-brown paste.

3. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the wine and use a flat utensil to loosen any and all brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan, stirring them into the onions. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer slowly for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, tasting it to get the balance right, adding a touch more vinegar, and salt and pepper, if desired.

4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Set six ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

5. Divide the hot soup among the bowls. Rub both sides of the toasted bread slices with the garlic. Put the toasts on the soup, then sprinkle the tops with the grated cheese. Bake the soups on the upper rack of the oven until the cheese is deeply browned, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, if your bowls can withstand the heat, you can set the cheese-topped soups under a hot broiler, cooking them until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Serve immediately.

more from david lebovitz

enter to win ‘my french kitchen’

My-Paris-Kitchen2I BOUGHT AN EXTRA COPY of David Lebovitz’s “My French Kitchen” (Amazon affiliate link) to share with a lucky reader. To enter, all you have to do is answer this multi-part question in the comments box below the last comment on this page.

Do you grow onions? Have you ever made onion soup? (If not, what’s your most onion-centric dish?)

No answer? That’s fine; just say “count me in” or the equivalent, and I will. But an answer is even better. I selected a random winner after entries closed at midnight Sunday, September 14, 2014, and am buying another book for another round of the giveway to end Tuesday November 19, 2019. Good luck to all.

(Photo of David Lebovitz from his website.)

    1. Debbykay says:

      I grow onions from tiny seedlings and eagerly wait to pull from the garden in the fall when the bulbs are golden and the tops are drying!
      Onion soup is on of my fall and winter favorites—especially when feeling nostalgic or in need of some comfort,

  1. Mary says:

    I grow bulb onions from seedlings (available from several seed catalogs) with good results, scallions and leeks from seed. I’m a fan of Julia Child’s French onion soup, but am eager to try this recipe. Also love anything with leeks, including Patricia Wells’ flamiche recipe from Bistro Cooking. Count me in!

  2. Virginia White says:

    Celiac has caused me to branch out immensely with my cooking. If I want to eat safely, often I have to cook it myself. Onion soup often has wheat in it, so… hello onion soup recipes! And experimenting! :D
    This looks marvelous.

  3. Heather Roberts says:

    I grow Shallot onions, I do make Onion Soup (my favorite soup!), and my onion-centric is my own kitchen trinity of onions, shiitake mushrooms, garlic!

  4. Rachel Imsland says:

    I don’t grow onions but I DO make French Onion Soup for my birthday every year in October. It’s my favorite soup! Also, yesterday I made Lebovitz’s Caramelized Almond Cake, another go-to recipe for me. SO delicious!

  5. KAREN ROGERS says:

    I grew bunching onions to grill a la Mexicana (cebollitas). My most oniony dish was a paprikash where the meat was cooked in tons of onions and paprika until tender. The onions practically melted into nothing but deliciousness!

  6. Catherine W. says:

    I have made some half-hearted attempts to grown onions by rooting tops from purchased onions, but the result has also been half-hearted. When I am able to live at our weekend place fulltime, I hope to grow lots of onions.

    And I love David’s recipes!!!

  7. Dawn Brierley says:

    Looks yummy – had to make onion soup with chicken stock once before out of necessity & thought it was a bit sweet so I was surprised to see someone do it on purpose.

  8. Peg Pinard says:

    I seem to add onions to just about everything savory that I make. They just add so much flavor! French onion soup is one of my favorites and I found a great recipe years ago that added a bit of cognac and the result was amazing. I hadn’t thought about using chicken stock so will try that next time. I’ve grown onions ‘on and off’ and I like trying different types of onions just for fun.

  9. Sandy says:

    I grow green onions and shallots but I absolutely love onions so I have no idea why I don’t grow them! Same goes for onion soup, it is one of my favorites and I order it out but have not made any at home. I’d love to win the cookbook right now as I have a French foreign exchange student living with us here in Alaska and we enjoy cooking together. Thanks!

  10. Christina says:

    This soup puts me in mind of a tart I make of caramelized onions and shallots on a base of bleu d’Auvergne cheese loosened up with a bit of crème fraîche. While it wouldn’t work in the same meal with David Lebovitz’s onion soup, it’s another deeply flavorful way of employing onions. I grow ‘Evergreen White Bunching’ scallions, tucked into less visible parts of a few perennial borders. They also grow very well, though inadvertently, in our compost pile every year!

  11. Rae Kasdan says:

    My husband is the onion grower. But my project has been growing garlic for several years. I like to braid them and give as a gift. What could be better than garlic for Christmas?

  12. Mary Stawarz says:

    I’m a bit of a francofile so David’s book would be very nice. I have made onion soup with beef stock and gruyere cheese…delicious. I’ve tried growing onions…not much luck.

  13. J Murrett says:

    My favorite “onion Soup” story was that while expecting my first child 35 years ago, I made a great big pot of onion soup and ate almost the whole pot of soup myself, only to experience “heartburn” for the first time! I now eat onion soup by the bowlful, instead of the potful!

  14. Marilee Reyes says:

    I’ve been following David for years, not in the stalking mode, you understand, just following his blog. He’s witty, informative and his recipes are not the kind you find every day. I would love his book.

  15. Nancy Nichols says:

    My mom’s delicious onion soup calls for the stock to be made using carcass from the Thanksgiving turkey. Very good use of the bird and always looked forward to.

  16. No, I don’t grow onions in my small patio garden. Though, I do purchase them from my favorite farmers. My favorite way with onions is to caramelize them and add them to a crustless quinoa quiche :-)

  17. Mabelle Kirk says:

    That onion soup looks fantastic! I grow all sorts of onion related plants, like chives, garlic, etc plants that deer do not eat. :-)

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