I go through phases: nachos, hamburgers, butternut squash soup, Caesar salads . . . . But French onion soup is here to stay. So due to popular demand (I was asked via the Insta how I made my restaurant-grade Instant Pot French onion soup), here is the recipe for making this onion-y goodness for about $2 a bowl.
As someone who cooks a lot, I know that the cost of French onion soup at a restaurant (like the price of a cheese plate) can be highway robbery. As off-brand as this may seem, living, transportation and FOOD are your biggest expenses. So like our hamburger article that could severely help your retirement, think about other swaps, and what compounding could do for you if you invested the savings.
This recipe is basically stock + onions + thyme (with bread or croutons + cheese on top). It is SUPER easy no matter how you cook it. It’s also very forgiving if something doesn’t go according to plan or if you want to spruce it up with your own flare. I cook because I enjoy cooking, I know what’s going into my food, I use better-quality ingredients, and it’s CHEAPER than eating out/ordering in.
The recipe below uses an Instant Pot—yes, I’m one of those Instant Pot fanatics . . . like if a vegan joined CrossFit and bought an Instant Pot, which of the three would they talk about first?—but you can sauté the onions on the stove (which the Instant Pot does), you can throw them into a slow cooker (which the Instant Pot does), and you can use a pressure cooker if you want it to go faster (which the Instant Pot does). If you just do the whole thing on the stove with, say, a Dutch oven pot, you’re going to be stirring a lot. Who got time fo’ dat? Let’s get cook’n.
Makes approximately 9 bowls
Just FYI: I cook sorta the way my imaginary grandmother would be dictating over the phone. Oh, just a pinch of this to taste, oh, you know, a dash . . . Thanks, can you tell me tablespoons or some normal, quantifiable metric? I’m trying.
- 4 or 5 medium-to-large yellow onions (I had some organic ones from my Misfit Markets box. Feel free to add some shallots, which I did, if you want to be très fancy, but your onions are center stage, so I’m just including those in the pricing.)
($0.78* x 5 = $3.90)
- 8 cups of beef broth (Do not skimp here. The dollar difference is important with generic vs. well-known or organic brands. As with wine, if you wouldn’t drink it, why would you put it in your food? I used 2 Swanson 32-oz. packs. They have a gourmet one (recommended). College Inn is another trusted brand in culinary circles.)
($1.97 x 2 = $3.94).
- A little under half a stick of unsalted butter to sauté the onions (So about 4 or 5 tablespoons, but feel free to add more if the onions aren’t sautéing properly. Some people use vegetable oil. Bleh.)
($2.98 (for a 4-pack) / 8 (as only using half a stick) = $0.37)
- Approx. 5 teaspoons of minced garlic (I get the stuff from a jar, but you can chop up about 6 cloves for less money. I love garlic like I love salt, and I’ve seen some recipes go as low as 3 cloves, which . . . why bother? I literally do two huge spoonfuls from the jar (so that’s about 5 teaspoons as an estimate.)
($2.12 (from a Goya jar) / 20 = $0.10) <–Totally made up 1/20th of the jar, but this isn’t going to break the bank.
- 1 tablespoon of thyme (Start there and taste. Usually, dried herbs have been sitting around for years, which just means you should add more, as I did.)
($0.70 (Badia brand) / 20= $0.04 <–Again, 20 was made up for the my estimate relative to the portion of the bag.)
- ½ a baguette (Trader Joe’s and Walmart both surprisingly have great bread.)
($1.00 / 2 = $0.50)
- 9 slices of cheese (Again, made that number up, but I’m assuming one slice at 0.8 ozs. per slice. You can add more or less, but broiled cheese is DELICIOUS.)
($6.74 (6 ozs.) / 6) x (9 x 0.8) = $8.09)
- Gruyere is the traditional go-to. It’s not too hard to find, but there are no hard and fast rules. I’ve seen Swiss and Parmesan used (which are generally cheaper), but feel free to experiment with other cheeses like mozzarella, Brie or, if you want to go cray cray, blue cheese (some say crumbled, some say slices. I have never found a difference).
- A little shredded Parmesan cheese to coat the bottom of the bowl. This is sorta optional but worth it.
($3.28 (6-oz. bag) / 2 = $1.64)
- 2 tablespoons of brown sugar (I added a bit more, but it was because the onions weren’t carmelizing to my liking. This falls under optional but is delicious.)
($1.32 (2-lb bag) x 0.07 = $0.09) <–internet told me the weight-to-size ratio.
- Salt and pepper (I LOOOOOVE me some salt. I generally avoid it in the cooking process as it doesn’t really matter if you add it before or after cooking, and everyone has their own taste . . . plus some say it steams the food as it draws out moisture. So sprinkle a little and let others measure to their taste. But do add pepper. Cooked pepper really adds another dimension of flavor. I won’t include a cost for this as that would just be ridiculous.)
- A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Again, no idea. I just threw it in. Probably 2 tablespoons? This should be under “Optional,” but just do it.
($1.00 (store brand 10 ozs.) / 10 = $0.10)
- 1 cup of red wine (I didn’t add any alcohol, and it was still delicious, but recipes from my family and my internet family also have other inebriating liquids, like a short pour of sherry or even white wine. Alcohol provides an acidic base, but not including it is more frugal and didn’t stop me [or my clan] from devouring the fruits of this delectable labor.)
- Flour or cornstarch (This will thicken the soup, but I find that the cheese is enough . . . particularly the parm on the bottom of the bowl. If you do add either of these, make sure to sift and/or sprinkle it (about 2 tablespoons) as it can clump up.)
- Unami (This Trader Joe’s seasoning has my friends addicted . . . just like Trader Joe’s Everything-but-the-Bagel.)
- Add some fresh thyme springs on top for garnish . . . . I just find them annoying and not worth it if it’s just for me or even for my close friends. For a dinner party, maybe. It’s really just aesthetic as the twig isn’t entirely edible/palatable.
So how it works:
As Britney and RuPaul say, you better work [bitch]. Chopping the onions is the first (and only work) part, which you should do while you heat up the Instant Pot on its sauté function. Don’t cry, you’re saving money . . . oh, that was just the onions. Cut them small enough to be manageable by spoon. Once the pot is warmed, put the butter/oil with the brown sugar (this really helps the carmelization process) for about a minute, before you put in all of your freshly-chopped onions. After a few minutes (3?), add the garlic, herbs, Worcestershire, and optional booze (the latter should fully burn off quickly, so it’s still kid-friendly, or abscond as I did). Once the onions are soft and flimsy (and brownish, despite some chefs saying not to brown them, so it’s your call) after a few more (2?) minutes, add in the stock. Most of the work is now done.
So for Instant Pot users, move the function over to pressure cook (high pressure) and set the time for 20 minutes, then allow an equal amount of time on natural release (where you haven’t released the pressure valve, but it’s no longer cooking). That’s when you get to kick back and have some “me time” <cue wine>. So after the 40 minutes are up (20 cooking and 20 sitting), unplug that bad boy and take it outside (or just away from wood and glassware) for a full release of the steam valve, unless you want steamed onion bits all over your hanging wine glasses, as I discovered once when cooking lentils. A slow cooker works just as well to make this recipe (a few hours depending on low vs. high temperature . . . ask your Google) or you can replicate this procedure in a pressure cooker (which is the function I used on the Instant Pot).
Ding Ding! Time’s Up. How to Serve & Dish:
Sprinkle the bottom of every bowl with some parm (2 tablespoons?). I love cheese, so you can’t go wrong by me.
If you don’t have oven-safe/broiler-safe soup crocks, you’ll need to do some quick tricks as a workaround. Toast the bread separately—you can do this in a toaster or under a broiler—and then place the cheese on top of the bread and broil to your heart’s delight (I do it for about 3 minutes). Pop that sucker on top of your soup and you are gourmet AF. (Some cooks, i.e., not chefs, just throw the cheese on top of the hot soup and let it melt on its own, but that’s an amateur-hour move to me.)
If you do have oven-safe/broiler-safe crocks, pile in the soup topped with the toasted French bread and cheese, and broil until the cheese melts. Just be careful, that crock will be hot, hot, hot! (The cheese that clings to the side is enough inspiration for me to go out and buy some new soup crocks.)
That’s it. Literally. Why would you pay for this when your own could be next level!?!
$18.77 (or $2.09/serving)!!!
That’s basically two bowls of French onion soup at a restaurant (tip not included) . . . but this recipe makes NINE SERVINGS! (That comes to $2.09/serving.) Freeze half, have a dinner party, live on it for 3 days (or 1.5 if you’re sharing it). Since most calorie-counting sites (including Panera, which we in the ‘Lou call [St. Louis] Bread Co.) put it at slightly over 300 calories, eating it for three straight days wouldn’t exactly be recommended. However, I do think I could have this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For less than $20, I literally made 9 servings of a soup that I LOVE. This would have cost $10 per bowl in a restaurant. Vive la soupe à l’oignon!!!!
Et voilà! Gourmet Instant Pot French onion soup!
*All prices are from https://www.walmart.com/ as of 10/10/19.