Recipe Review

Ina Garten’s French Onion Soup Recipe Has One Fatal Flaw

published Jan 27, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk Headshot: Shutterstock

I’ve been a fan of Ina Garten ever since I began watching Barefoot Contessa on Food Network several years ago. Her recipes are always a hit, never too fussy, and consistently delicious. So when I came across her French onion soup recipe and saw that it didn’t include the classic toppings of bread and melty Gruyère cheese, I figured it had to be for a good reason. Ina wouldn’t steer us wrong… right?

I was curious to see how Ina’s minimalist interpretation of the beloved soup would compare to heartier, more traditional versions in our French onion soup recipe showdown. Would I miss the classic additions, or realize the soup never needed loads of cheese and bread in the first place? I was skeptical, but eager to give it a try. Here’s what happened when I cooked a batch in my kitchen.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk Headshot: Shutterstock

How to Make Ina Garten’s French Onion Soup

Ina’s recipe was definitely the easiest of the four soups I battled. You start by cooking a generous amount of sliced yellow onions in a stockpot with melted butter and a bay leaf until they become “rich golden brown.” The recipe instructs you to cook them for about 20 minutes, but I found that it took almost twice that long for them to fully caramelize. You’ll then deglaze the pan with a splash each of sherry and brandy and let them simmer for a few minutes. Add dry white wine and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

You’ll then add both veal and beef stock along with a pinch of salt and pepper and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Give it a taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed (and remove the bay leaf). At this point Ina simply garnishes the soup with shredded Parmesan cheese — no bread or melted Gruyère in sight.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Ina Garten’s French Onion Soup

Ina’s recipe is solid, and the soup itself is delicious. The combination of 50 percent beef stock and 50 percent veal stock gives it a nice savory richness, and the onion flavor is spot on. It has a fairly classic base, and a successful one at that!

But it has one big problem: the topping of grated Parmesan cheese is seriously underwhelming. It doesn’t melt, it’s unsatisfying, and it doesn’t add the same heartiness that the classic combination of melted Gruyère and toasted French bread lend to the soup. The overall presentation was lackluster and it felt a bit unfinished. If Ina had garnished her soup with the traditional toppings I might have loved this recipe, but as-is I just couldn’t get behind it. Turns out you really do need the bread and cheese!

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If You’re Making Ina Garten’s French Onion Soup, a Few Tips

1. Set aside at least 45 minutes to fully caramelize the onions: Ina instructs you to cook the onions for 20 minutes until they are a rich golden brown color, but I found that this took closer to 45 minutes to achieve. Make sure to plan ahead and be patient so the onions fully caramelize, and look at the color of the onions versus the time to tell when they are done.

2. Feel free to use beef stock in place of the veal stock: Though I did like the flavor that the veal stock contributed, it can be hard to find. If you can’t track it down, use all beef stock.

3. Ditch the Parmesan and finish the soup with shredded Gruyère and toasted bread: Although easy, the shredded Parmesan topping didn’t add the richness we’ve all come to expect from French onion soup. My advice? Make Ina’s soup base and give it the classic French onion soup treatment. You’ll thank me later.

Rating: 7/10

Have you ever made Ina Garten’s French onion soup? Tell us what you thought!

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk Headshots: Getty, Shutterstock, Serious Eats, Getty