I miss my mother every day; I especially miss her when I make this soup, since we both bonded over accidentally developing it together many moons ago. My wee mum was never the best cook, and a self-admitted terrible baker; she was too busy and distracted by kicking a$$ in the corporate world most of the time for her to prioritize food preparation. But no judgement here; there were few days in my family’s early years where takeout or dining out was an option, so that’s a LOT of meals to have to put on the table without there being a “recipe rut” one way or another. All this to say that, when we did occasionally work on meals together from my early-adult years and beyond, sometimes we were able to teach each other some new tricks. This soup is one of them, especially once I became a vegetarian in my twenties and we had to revamp the standard family recipe to accommodate.
After weaning ourselves off the putative “convenience” of Lipton’s Onion Soup packets (ew sodium bomb), we came up with a simple kitchen math way of making this soup so it would work out perfectly every time. I ended up naming it 4by4by4 (by 4, by 4…) French Onion Soup as a fun, family joke memory aide, since it was impossible to forget how to make it if you remembered the name. To be honest, it almost feels like a thoughtcrime to write down this simple recipe since it seems so easy once you see the ingredients and method.
Regardless, every time I make it, it’s a way to honour my mum and our time together in the kitchen; I hope you have as much success with and enjoyment of this recipe as I’ve had over the years.
Mum’s 4x4x4 French Onion Soup
YIELD: 4 generous servings | PREP: 5 mins | COOK: 30-40 mins
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: heat-resistant soup bowls (optional)
- 4 large white, Vidalia, or yellow cooking onions, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced into rings
- 4 tsp/20g salted butter
- 4 tsp olive oil
- Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
- 4 cups/1L beef, chicken, or vegetable stock (I use a vegetarian “beef” flavour stock)
- 4 cups/1L boiling water (if more intense flavour desired, add 2-4 bouillon cubes of choice)
- 4 thick slices dense bread (rye, sourdough, etc.), cut to fit size and shape of soup bowls
- 4 handfuls shredded cheese of choice (swiss, muenster, low-moisture mozzarella, gruyere (traditional), fontina; avoid cheddar)
- 4 pinches fresh or dried parsley
- Heat butter and olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat; add onion rings and sauté until translucent and limp (7-10 minutes). Add pinches of salt and pepper at this point, but do not over-salt as the stock/bouillon may have high sodium content.
- Add stock and water with optional bouillon cubes to pot, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then lower and allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes; adjust seasoning as necessary.
- In the last 5 minutes of cooking, toast bread until golden; set aside until soup is done. Preheat oven/toaster oven on broil.
- ASSEMBLY: Ladle soup into bowls, leaving a small room at top; float toast slice and add handful of shredded cheese and a pinch of parsley to each bowl, then place on baking sheet and broil in oven for 1 minute or until cheese melts and starts to turn golden on top. Serve hot. NOTE: if you do not have heatproof soup bowls, toast the bread, then broil each toast slice with the cheese on top to melt it down; float the cheese toast on top of each filled bowl of soup and serve.