Gourmet Spotlight: Onion Transformed

By Kate Riley September 9, 2009

Perhaps it was the decadent menu at Bouchon, or perhaps it was the crisp morning autumn air.  Or perhaps it’s just the color caramel itself.  But all of a sudden I was craving French Onion Soup.  Oh.  Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur Keller.  Soupe à l’Oignon. 

Now you know I love a good transformation.  Especially one where a raw bland object with hidden potential gets transformed into sweet and sassy goodness.  And I’m a sucker for a great before and after.  It must be why I love how a yellow onion becomes the most savory gourmet delight in an hour. 

b and a

I have a serious love affair with caramelized onions.  I could eat them on my scrambled eggs, over potatoes, on steaks, over flatbread, and always with cheese. Glorious oozing melting cheese.  They are one of those culinary delights that make a germ sensitive mom like me lick her fingers without any regret.

  onion soup crop

And with my caramelized onions, I make the most fabulous French Onion Soup.


Onions and apples, squash and sage.  Fall cooking is pure comfort food.  My caramelized onions find their way into plenty of hors d’oeuvres and light meals.  For special guests and occasions, they go one step further and become the ultimate first course. 

Simple Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions couldn’t be easier.  To start, grab a bag of yellow onions from the local store.  I cook up an entire 10 pound bag in two pots. 

bowl of onions

Slice them up in small strips. 

onion before

There will be an opportunity at the end to share your secrets to cutting onions and avoiding tears.  Mine is simply this little food processing tool.  It does all the dirty work for me.  Confession: I fell prey to one of those late night infomercials several years ago.

le presse


diced onions up close

Melt a stick of unsalted butter in your pot, and add two teaspoons of cooking oil.  Am I alone in this, or do you also find melting butter rather attractive?  I do.  Hence, the photo. 

melting butter

Add four to five pounds of sliced onions to your pot, and stir every few minutes for about 45 minutes.  Once your onions start to brown, watch them so that they don’t burn.  Then observe the magic happening.  The natural sugars buried deep inside transform during the cooking process to become your best culinary friend.   

caramelized in pot

Once they are a rich caramel color, I like to add about 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  Then I reduce them in the liquid for about 10 more minutes.  When they’re done, I spoon them into jars for future use, and I refrigerate.  ** Author’s note after several comments:  They will keep in a cold fridge for up to two weeks.

onions in jar


Use them in this Cranberry and Cream Cheese appetizer recipe from Southern Living.

 southern living cranberry bites  Image: Southern Living

Or drizzle them with cheese over a baked potato in this recipe from Cooking Light at MyRecipes.com.

caramelized-onion-stuffed-baked-potato-12035333041 Image: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Or try Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Cornbread.

caramelized onion goat cheese cornbread smitten kitchen Image: Smitten Kitchen

This next recipe is my own time tested version of French Onion Soup.  It has the simplest ingredients, and is almost too easy to justify it’s amazing flavor. 

soup supplies

French Onion Soup for Eight:

  1. 5 lbs yellow onions, thinly sliced in strips
  2. 1 stick unsalted butter
  3. 2 tsp vegetable oil
  4. 1.5 cups dry sherry
  5. Four 14 oz. cans low sodium chicken broth (or 8 cups)
  6. 6 oz. gruyere cheese (or similar style of cheese)
  7. Sliced sourdough rounds

Melt butter in pan and add oil.  Cook onions over medium low heat for approximately 50 minutes until caramelized (see above).  Add dry sherry and bring to a boil.  Reduce for 5 minutes.  Add chicken broth and simmer soup on low for another 45 to 50 minutes.

 add chicken broth

Entertainer’s tip:  If preparing in advance, then cover and refrigerate earlier in the day.  Later, you can bring the soup to simmer, then spoon soup into ramekins or soup bowls. 

soup spooned in bowls 

These miniature Brunswick Soup Pots I picked up for $4 each at Crate + Barrel last year.  This year’s version comes in creamy white.  They’re oven-safe and make a nice homey presentation for your family or dinner guests. 

Cut your sourdough crouton by turning the soup bowl upside down and carving a perfect size round.  Lightly toast to achieve browned edge. 

cut sourdough

Layer with a few slices of gruyere or similar style cheese.

layer crouton and cheese

Place on a baking dish under low broiler for 3 to 4 minutes to allow cheese to melt.  Serve hot to table.

On a crisp autumn evening, there is nothing like the bubbling goodness of melted gruyere over a sourdough crouton in a soup bowl. 

melted cheese up close

And as any lover of French Onion soup knows, the best part is the moment your spoon hits the cheese and penetrates that sourdough crouton.  It’s magical. 

sourdough crouton with cheese

I like to serve mine with sliced pear and some additional cheese.  Très élégant.  Add some extra bread and a glass of red, and it’s a little piece of heaven.

soup and pear

I once served it to my in-laws and watched their eyes roll back in their heads. 

Here’s a final touch.  Send your guests home with their own little jar of your own savory concoction, with a personalized label.  You’ll kill ‘em if you include a recipe for them to recreate the soup later in the week.  Translation: “Why yes, I am the perfect hostess, thank you very much.” 

onions with label

How many of you know and love the Soupe à l’Oignon?   What secrets can you share about cutting onions without crying a river of tears?


  1. I share your love for carmelized onions! But I can’t help you on onion cutting tips. I cry every time. I never even though of making them ahead of time and keeping them in a cute jar in the fridge …der! How long do they keep in the fridge? Thanks!

  2. MMM you are making me so hungry! Those little jars of onion for a hostess gift is such a cute idea too. My trick for cutting onions is really something I inherited from my mother, I am able to block my nose off right at the back, and it really reduces the amount of tears!

  3. Yum and double yum!!!

    How long will the jars of carmelized onions keep in the fridge???

    Sadly, I have no tricks for no-tears onion cutting. Hubby does keep the knives nice and sharp, which I’ve heard helps. Seems like I’ve also heard to put them in the freezer for about 20 minutes before cutting them, but I never think far enough ahead to try it.

  4. I could smell it from the pictures! Love-ly! BTW, how long will the onions keep refrigerated? I’ve never cooked them ahead like that before…..It’s such an awesome, unexpected idea for a food gift.

  5. Can’t wait to try your recipe. BTW, room temp cambozola cheese smeared on a sliver of baguette with carmelized onion on top – heaven in a bite!

  6. mhhhhh…. caramelized onion…. Soupe à l’oignon… lunch time here and I’m hungry now!

    As an avid apneist and underwater rugby player (yes, that exists!) I can share this tip: cut onions with a scuba mask on your face. I know it sounds funny, but it helps. I keep one of my old, battered masks in the kitchen for this exact purpose.

    Also, since I don’t have a lot of time to cook more often than not (and a lot of onions would go to waste otherwise) I cut Onions for cooking the entire net at one time. (they come in 1,5 or 3 kg nets where I live) I then put them in Ziplock bags (evenly spread out) and freeze. When the time for cooking comes, I break off a piece and put it straight into the pan.

  7. Thank you so much for this! I have like 20 onions from our CSA that I have been staring at for weeks. This will be the perfect way to use them up!

  8. You are just about the sweetest thing ever! =] I gotta tell you – I LOVE reading your stuff. I usually have a huge grin on my face by the time I’m done reading your stuff.

    Anyway = = the secret to no onion tears? Contacts. When I’m wearing them, my eyes don’t tear up at all. When I’ve got my glasses – I cry a bucket of tears!

  9. One word for French onion soup- DIVINE!

    I haven’t made any yet this summer but I will be soon! I’ve got lots of onions from the garden to use. Mmmmmmmmm!!!!

  10. I love carmelized onions – and that soup is perfect for a fall day – I will be trying the cranberry appy out in time for thanksgiving

  11. Sounds so yummy! I am anxious to try your recipe – I have one I usually make but it seems to be lacking a little somthing. Also love your labels. Keep on sharing, we all just love your style!

  12. It’s only 8 AM and my mouth is watering. We’re out of town this week-end but this will definitely be on next week-end’s menu. I love anything onion! Thanks for sharing.

  13. Oh! I love carmelized onions. Thanks for the recipe.

    I found this little “no tears” trick (without a kitchen gadget) off of the Food Network show where they actually tested different ways to reduce tears. Keep your oinions in the fridge so that they are cold when you cut them. I promise, this works! If you don’t like to keep your onions in the fridge all the time, just pop them in a few hours before you cut.

  14. My most favorite soup. I just heard this morning that we will be having a cooler than normal winter here in Florida, so I’ll be having this a bunch. I love those little soups crocks!

  15. my no tear onion trick is to have my daughter cut them. lol
    Now, before you say “how mean” here is why..she wears contacts and the onions bother her eyes, the contacts are a protective barrier

  16. Sounds amazing! Probably the easiest trick I have learned for greatly reducing the tear factor is simply to rinse the halved onion under running water. For whatever reason, even the strongest onions don’t bother me so much after doing this. Also, if you wear contacts, tears are not really an issue (but I’ve been wearing glasses again for the last couple of years).

  17. I LOVE french onion soup and I hate onions….well, raw ones, at least! I hear that if you put a bowl of water next you while you are chopping onions that it helps you not to cry. I think you are supposed to look at the water. Sometimes it helps…sometimes it doesn’t!

  18. Burning a candle close by while you are cutting helps as well. I’m with you Robin on the contacts, I haven’t had an issue in years since I started wearing contacts. One question, wondering how long the carmelized onions stay good for while refridgerated?

  19. Hmm, I have no trick for onions. They don’t usually bother me. I’ve heard that chewing gum keeps you from tearing up…dunno if it really works. Your soup looks amazing, and gets me all excited about fall recipes! :-)

  20. Wow! That looks divine! My husband introduced me to caramelized onions on grilled bratwurst, too good! If you light a candle by the cutting board while you slice onions it will burn up the gas that causes the tears. Even lighting a match over the cut onions works. Try it!

  21. French onion soup is my favorite thing in the whole wide world. I grew up in Louisiana and onion and garlic is the base for any dish that isn’t a dessert. I find that if you refrigerate onions before cutting them you won’t cry. I don’t know why, but something about keeping the onion cold keeps those cry inducing particles from being released from the onion. Try it… it works!

  22. Oh man those onions looks so good! I’m not a huge french onion soup fan, but my hubby sure is so I’ll definitely have to make this for him. What temperature do you use for carmelizing the onions so they don’t burn as they cook for 45 minutes?

  23. Hmm…so you can’t send them to people or “can” them, can you? It seems like a wonderful idea for a party – just make a boatload in advance and then keep them in your fridge and give them away afterwards. Brilliant plan, I think. Although I’ll have to stick with homemade vanilla for packages, I think.

  24. I heart french onion soup! Every recipe I have tried at home just doesn’t cut it. This I’ll be trying TONIGHT! Thank you so much!

  25. What lovely recipes! Thanks so much for sharing. Do you know how long the caramelized onions will keep in the refrigerator? Can’t wait to make a batch myself. :-)

  26. This looks delicious! Yummy!

    My secret to cutting onions is to make sure they are cold when you cut them. I store them in the fridge so they are always ready to go. This pretty much makes them tear-free. Red onions still seem to get me though, even if they are cold.

  27. This looks so yummy. I love onions!! I always try to find a way to eat onions whenever I can. Thanks for sharing your delicious recipes.

  28. So glad you posted this today! I love French Onion Soup, but have only made it once because the recipe I have feeds an army. I don’t normally host an army. A recipe that feeds 8 will be much more appropriate! I’m as curious as everyone else as to how long the caramalized onions will keep in the fridge. Please, don’t leave us hanging!

    I have also heard that refriderating onions will keep them from making you cry. But, I’m a contact wearer, so, I don’t worry about it.

  29. That looks mouth-watering. Great tutorial and photos. :) I LOVE the little gift jar idea. Do you actually can those, or are they safe for a day or two as long as they are refrigerated?

  30. No tears? For years I wore swimming goggles while cutting them but, last Christmas, two of my sisters gave me onion cutting accessories – one gave me special onion cutting glasses (they have something like foam around the edge similar to swimming goggles – without the weird hair you end up with) and the other gave me a Tupperware onion cutting tool. Both work really well! The Tupperware one only chops so I use the glasses for slicing. Honestly I am nearly blinded if I don’t use something.

    I make caramelised onions all the time – love them!! Down here in Uruguay we have discovered them used as topping with pate and crackers. Delicious!! I have served these so many times now and everyone loves them. Let me know if you try them. I will definitely be trying your soup, yum!

  31. You are so talented! You seem to be good at a variety of different things. You have such nice taste. I like that you do and make a lot of these things yourself. It’s really inspiring. You could have your own TV show.

  32. A tried and true trick for cutting onions is to put a half a piece of bread in your mouth (most of the bread sticking out of your mouth) and it soaks up all the onion vapors…no more tears!

  33. Hi all – to answer your question. I keep my jarred carmelized onions in a cold fridge for up to two weeks. Enjoy !

  34. Perfection, and I can no longer eat it! I have a wonderful recipe (from Famous Barr…are you familiar?) for their French Onion Soup. I loved it and so did my husband. We have found as we’ve gotten a little older (ugh…hate to even say it) that onions just don’t settle the way they used to. I miss French Onion Soup, and your recipe looks wonderful. I love your presentation too.

  35. Periodically, I buy a whole bag of yellow onions, cut them up and place them in the crockpot on low with a stick of butter (or two if I think they need it) and let them cook themselves. In about 24-48 hours I have perfectly carmelized onions without heating the house or stirring. I divide them into various size packages and take them out of the freezer as needed. Come to think of it, you’ve reminded me that we are out and I need to make more. Thanks!

  36. What a great post – I definitely want to go home tonight and make some french onion soup! My secret ingredient I always use in french onion soup is a tablespoon or two of demi-glace. Give it a try – it’s excellent!

  37. Once again you outdid yourself! Exquisite post. Love it and Fall is just my favorite season and this is my favorite souP!! Can’t wait to try your recipe.

  38. JULIA above….. what a crack-up! I used to wear my scuba-mask to peel and cut onions too! I started using it the first time I ever made pickled pearl onions – which I will never make again. Just buy em’.

    Can someone tell me how long the caramelized onions can be kept in the fridge in sealed jars ??
    I’m a great admirer of the caramelized onions….on just about everything.

  39. Light a fire next to your onions while you cut, I use the stovetop. Works every single time. I cut onions weekly and it has not failed me.

  40. That looks absolutely incredible. Why would you do this to us?? Just kidding – I need to make this soon! It seems like something I can make on my meager budget. Thanks!!! Can’t wait to taste this version!

  41. I think you’ve just solved a problem I was having. I will be going to the Outer Banks with friends in October. We each have responsibility for one night’s dinner. The obvious thing would be to use seafood, but I think your Onion Soup would be perfect. Can’t you just picture us enjoying your soup while watching the waves break on the beach and feeling a cool ocean breeze. Perfect!

  42. This sounds so good and I know my family would love it. I could never chop all of those onions though, I can’t even get through one without going blind or having to run out of the kitchen to find the Visine. I’m sure the hubs wouldn’t mind cooking it, though. He love to caramelize onions.

  43. I migh be committing a cooking sin, but I put onions in the fridge the night before I am going to use them. Never had a problem with tears. But, if I use a room temperature onion, I cry every time.

  44. This makes me want to make my French Onion soup recipe. Which is very similar to yours. Love the jar with the caramelized onions. Very cute! Helen…thanks for that link. I will have to get some of those goggles. Those onions get me every time.

  45. My husband likes it, although I do not. It LOOKS good, but I am not a fan of so much onion. Unfortunate, it looks delicious. :(

  46. My mother taught me years ago to chill onions in the frig first and then slice – an old Cajun trick!
    Really keeps the fumes down. Thank you for this wonderful article and recipes. I’m eagerly waiting for
    our first fall evening in Dallas and your yummy onion soup!

  47. I love your recipe and presentation. My recipe calls for beef broth, but will defineitely try yours. I love onions too. I keep my onions in the fridge and run them under cold water before I chop. Thanks for sharing.

  48. I haven’t tried it, but I read on a Snapple cap once that if you chew gum while chopping onions then it won’t make you tear up. I was cutting pearl onions the other day while I was making apple beef stew and even though I was using one of those off brand Slap Chop things I was still gushing tears! Unfortunately I didn’t have any gum around though, or onion goggles.

  49. I made this today and let me tell you my hubbys eyes and mine rolled in the back of our heads :) Thats how good this was! Thanks for sharing this is a new fav for sure!!

  50. I love French onion soup but it’s hard to find a great recipe or a restuarant that really knows how to make it. This by far tops any restuarant and recipe I have ever tried! Amazing, thank you so much for sharing. This will be my new favorite soup to make on a crisp fall evening.
    On a side note: I always have a ton of chicken broth and I found out I didn’t after I already started making the soup. I used half beef broth and half chicken broth and it was delish!!

  51. Oh..regarding the onions. After 1 onion I couldn’t stand it anymore. I went and grabbed my son’s swimming goggles. Yes I looked like a dork, but I did not tear up once! hee hee

  52. WOW! This is me and the HUBS very most favorite soup! I love all the ideas and tips on how else you to consume and present this. I love it! It’s supposed to be 50 this week (perfect soup weather)!!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  53. This soup was nothing short of spectacular. I am already planning to make it again. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe, and for the gorgeous photos.

  54. I’m a late comer here, but I’m so glad to find this post about carmelizing onions for my favorite, French Onion Soup! Thanks for sharing the rcipe! My tip about slicing onions without tears is to do it under the hood of my stove. The fan pulls the fumes away from me and there are no tears. I also love the slicing gadget. I have a similar one from Williams Sonoma that I use all the time!

  55. The onion won’t make you tear up unless you cut the root end. That’s where the aroma that burns your eyes is stored. Also, I would LOVE to have the label you used. Is there a place to buy it or download it? Thanks so much for your wonderful blog!!!

  56. Thanks for that, and for any readers that are having difficulty chopping onions without the tears, here’s an incredibly easy tip – put them in the fridge for a few hours, then chop them straight away after taking them out! No more tears! I found some more onion soup recipes here if anyone wants to try some more variations.

  57. Stumbled upon this yesterday & made it.
    For a college kid (who can’t really cook) on a budget, I LOVED it!
    Perfect for fall :)

  58. Do you think I could make now and can these for Christmas gifts? Your site says they keep in the fridge, but it’d be nice to have in the pantry… Thanks!! My local supermarket has onion .25/lb. I’m gonna go get 10 lbs today :D

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