Paleo recipes: French onion soup

It’s taken me 4 weeks to perfect this recipe and I fear that Chris is now sick of onion soup.  It was worth the effort though.  We’ve just had two consecutive days with excellent tasting soup and I have to admit that the brothiness and depth of flavours in this soup make it an absolute favourite for me.

French onion soup (very hot and steaming...)

French onion soup (very hot and steaming...)

Ingredients (for one portion – multiply up to the amount you need):
2 brown/white onions
0.75 pint beef stock (or vegetarian if you are that way inclined, but it’s not as good)
Cheese for grating – Gruyere or cheddar works well
2 tbsp sherry (this doesn’t need multiplying up and is optional if you are being very strictly paleo)


  1. Thinly slice the onions and place in a saucepan (which has a lid) with a little oil (or butter).  I recommend using a pan that is big enough to hold all of the soup so that none of the good flavour gets lost in transfer between pans.
  2. Place the pan over a low heat so that the onions start to gently sweat, cover the pan with the lid and leave over the heat for 50 minutes.  Return to stir the onions every 15-20 mins to make sure they don’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.
  3. After 50 minutes the onions should be a pale brown when you stir them round and almost mushy in consistency.  The bottom of the pan may also be covered in a dark brown caramel.  At this point add some sherry, a little at the time, and use this to deglaze the pan.  2 tbsp is an estimate, it may take a little more or a little less to get all the caramel off the bottom of the pan.  If you want to stay non-alcohol paleo then use a splash of the stock to deglaze the pan.
  4. Add the stock to the pan and bring to the boil.  At this point, if you are making the soup well in advance, turn the heat off and leave to stand until 20-25 mins before serving.
  5. Turn the heat down so that the soup is simmering gently, put the lid on (so that it doesn’t all evaporate) and leave simmering for 20-25 mins.
  6. To serve:  after ladling soup into the bowl, generously grate cheese onto the soup.  The quantity of onion per person should mean the bowl is quite thick with onion and the cheese doesn’t all sink to the bottom.

Advice and a cheese variation:

  • Don’t rush the onion caramelising stage.  The first time I made this I had to stop early to cook breakfast eggs for 4 people.  As a result the onions weren’t fully caramelised and the soup came out pale and watery.  To quote Chris: “it tasted like chopped onions floating in stock”.  (While that is essentially what it is, proper onion soup shouldn’t taste like it.)  If the onions haven’t become mushy and pale brown then you aren’t ready to move to step 3.
  • Traditional French onion soup should have a small piece of toasted baguette floating in it with the cheese toasted onto this.  If you want something that looks a bit more traditional then slice the cheese as thinly as possible (1-2mm), brush oil liberally on a baking tray, place the cheese on the oil and put under the grill until the cheese has melted down and started to brown and crisp at the very edge (enough for the edge to set slightly but not for the whole thing to become a cheese crisp).  Allow this to cool slightly and then lift off the baking tray (this could take some effort).  If you cut the cheese thinly enough, this should float.  Personally I found it far too much like hard work for the final product.

7 thoughts on “Paleo recipes: French onion soup

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  4. laci

    Cheese is in this recipe and dairy is not apart of the paleo diet. Unless you use almond cheese.

  5. Ammi Post author

    @Lindy & Laci

    On the topic of alcohol – this is not definitively considered to be non-Paleo. I doubt you’d find a conclusive view either way on the subject.

    Generally beer is avoided and many people avoid grain-based spirits (although Robb Wolf has made some interesting points about this on one of his Podcasts, pointing out that the gluten elements have been destroyed in these during the preparation process). The alcohol in this recipe is sherry – fortified wine – which is definitely gluten-free. However, the recipe actually does state that the sherry is optional. If you don’t want to use it, just leave it out.

    Dairy is a very grey area, even among Paleo dieters, and is not always considered to be 100% off-limits.

    Even some of those considered to be the strongest Paleo advocates, such as Robb Wolf, recommend taking an approach of Paleo+Dairy provided your body doesn’t react badly to dairy to those people who are trying to build significant amounts of muscle. Personally I do have some reaction to most dairy and as a result I don’t have it often, but I do find (as many lactose intolerant people do) that yoghurt doesn’t react with me. Meanwhile my partner is building significant amounts of muscle and has dairy a couple of times a week – essentially he is following a Paleo+dairy diet.

    In addition, the Primal crowd (loosely this could be taken as meaning those who follow sites such as Mark Sisson’s) might be considered to follow a paleo diet but they often have a more relaxed attitude to dairy. Many people in the Primal community obtain recipes from paleo sites.

    The important thing with dairy is to know if your body reacts well or badly to it and also, if you choose to keep dairy in your diet, to perhaps still only use it in moderation. Please see my posts on Paleo and dairy for more information on all of this.

    Since so many people who consider themselves to be Paleo still keep periodic dairy use in their diet, whether because they don’t react or because they are going through bulking muscle-building phases, and also because the Primal community also tend to seek out Paleo recipes, I do choose from time to time to include a recipe that includes some dairy on this site. If you do not consume dairy then there is no reason that you should use this recipe – there are plenty of other recipes here that do not contain dairy. Or alternatively with this particular recipe, just omit the dairy since the cheese is purely a topping to keep the recipe in line with the traditional French serving style.

    In the last 6 months or so I have taken to flagging recipes with dairy with “primal” in the title to make them more obvious but this won’t necessarily be the case on older recipes like this.

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