English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar

August 3, 2009 · 40 comments · Print This Post

in Dinner, Soups / Stews

English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar

French Onion Soup seems to be one of those dishes that I’m highly inclined to order at a restaurant but never seem to make at home. Of course when I think about some of the terrible versions of this soup I’ve experienced in various establishments it’s honestly a wonder that I’ve ever bothered to eat it again. Over seasoned or bland, too much cheese or too little, the top either undercooked or burned beyond recognition; these dish disasters seem to only run the balance from bad to worst. So I decided to try my hand at making a French Onion Soup recipe of my own at home. The recipe I chose comes from one of my favorite Brits and first Celebrity Chef crush, Jamie Oliver.

If I’m remembering correctly The Naked Chef was one of the first cooking programs that I made a concentrated effort to tune into. When Jamie had his mates over for a traditional post-drinking English breakfast I believed that they were truly hungover and looking forward to tucking into a big plate of buttery roasted potatoes. He was the king of the plausible story-line driven episode.

English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar

Flash forward to present day and I have to say I simply find these contrived outings and gatherings portrayed on practically every Food Network program to be overly saccharine and simply annoying. For example, Giada DeLaurentiis, whom I normally love to death now prepares food to take to the Polo Field or to feed her hungry friends who have been busily recording their new album all week. Please raise your hand if you spend your Saturdays at the Polo Fields. Yeah….I thought so. But I digress.

What first attracted me to Jamie’s recipe for English Onion Soup was the huge array of onions that he incorporated into the dish. Red Onions, shallots, leeks, and the traditional white onion all make an appearance. I think I chopped onions for half an hour. Of course if I had any sort of proper knife skills this could have been accomplished much more quickly and with fewer tears. Even Watson, my nightly kitten kitchen helper (whether I want one or not), looked a bit red-eyed by the time I finished.

English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar

Even though I had watched Jamie banging around frantically in his rustic kitchen set, quite probably provided by the lovely BBC, I still had my doubts about the mountain of onions I added to the melted olive oil and butter bubbling in my largest stock pot. Initially I could barely stir them but eventually they slowly began to melt down into a sweetly fragrant and colorful soup base.

English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar

While the smell of this soup cooking borders on the sublime there is nothing quite like the first steaming spoonful to truly get you excited. The onions are complemented beautifully by the influx of sage and garlic and the cap of crusty bread and sharp cheddar simply melts in your mouth. This recipe yields a tremendous amount of soup so be prepared to eat it for several days. However, I promise that you won’t get sick of it. Even after having it for lunch three days in a row I loathed to throw out the last bits, but I have a three day leftover rule that I’m fairly strict about so into the disposal it went. Now I’m simply biding my time until I can tearfully compose another fragrant batch and enjoy the same amazing flavors all over again.

English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar

English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar
Adapted from the recipe originally published in the cookbook Jamie at Home.

Good knob of butter (Erin’s Note: I used 4 tablespoons. That seemed like a “good knob”).
Olive oil
Handful fresh sage leaves, 8 leaves reserved for garnish
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
5 red onions, peeled and sliced
3 large white onions, peeled and slice
3 banana shallots, peeled and sliced
11 ounces leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups good-quality hot beef, chicken or vegetable stock
8 slices good-quality stale bread, 3/4-inch thick
7 ounces freshly grated Cheddar
Worcestershire sauce

Put the butter, 2 glugs of olive oil, the sage and garlic into a heavy bottomed, nonstick pan. Stir everything round and add the onions, shallots and leeks. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a lid on the pan, leaving it slightly ajar, and cook slowly for 50 minutes, without coloring the vegetables too much. Remove the lid for the last 20 minutes, the onions will become soft and golden. Stir occasionally so that nothing catches on the bottom. Having the patience to cook the onions slowly, gives you an incredible sweetness and an awesome flavor, so don’t be tempted to speed this up.

When your onions and leeks are lovely and silky, add the stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. You can skim any fat off the surface if you like, but I prefer to leave it because it adds good flavor.

Preheat the oven or broiler to maximum. Toast your bread on both sides. Correct the seasoning of the soup. When it’s perfect, ladle it into individual heatproof serving bowls and place them on a baking sheet. Tear toasted bread over each bowl to fit like a lid. Feel free to push and dunk the bread into the soup a bit. Sprinkle with some grated Cheddar and drizzle over a little Worcestershire sauce.

Dress your reserved sage leaves with some olive oil and place 1 on top of each slice of bread. Put the baking sheet into the preheated oven or under the broiler to melt the cheese until bubbling and golden. Keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t burn! When the cheese is bubbling, very carefully lift out the baking sheet and carry it to the table. Enjoy.

English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Renovation Therapy August 3, 2009 at 10:41 am

Gorgeous! Part of me was thinking…freeze the leftovers and make onion soup popsicles. I’m demented like that…LOL


2 Erin August 3, 2009 at 11:52 am

Ha! Disgusting but intriguing. I’m sure someone will do it and it will
become the next “big thing” — we better beat them to the punch.


3 Amy August 3, 2009 at 11:47 am

Ah, looks so GOOD!!! I love the cheddar toasts on top, and the use of the different kinds of onions. I’m so with you on Jamie O being a first celebrity chef crush – I used to religiously watch him when The Naked Chef aired and I was smitten. I still love him on Jamie at Home, but that’s pretty much the only show I watch on FN now (and I have little hope for how much longer it will air, considering they relegated it to the 7:30am Sat. time slot. Boo.)

Watson’s looking older! 🙂


4 Erin August 3, 2009 at 11:56 am

Thanks Amy! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one having inappropriate thoughts about Jamie.

Jamie at Home is actually produced by the BBC so there are only a handful of episodes. I’m pretty sure they’ve already aired them all so anything you see now is just a re-run from last summer. The BBC shows like Jamie at Home and Nigella Bites (or whatever) are all just on loan so-to-speak to the Food Network. I’m sure they’ll run others though in better time slots when they become available.

PS: Watson is such a little tween now complete with a bi-polar “he loves me, he hates me” attitude. I miss my little kitten!


5 Kylee August 3, 2009 at 1:38 pm

After a bit of a hiatus on my blog (life sure gets in the way of good intentions, right?) I’d love to try this one.

One question – what are “banana shallots”

I could google it…. but my imagination is having way too much fun conjuring up banana shaped onions, or onion shaped bananas….


6 Erin August 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Alas it isn’t terribly exciting. Banana Shallots are essentially just a larger, longer shallot. I used regular old shallots in my soup though and everything worked out just fine.

Welcome back to blogging!


7 Bren August 3, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Jamie. naked. onions. what a sinful thought at 2 pm!!! 🙂
great great looking soup, though not even one of my faves! you made
look fantastic!


8 Carrie August 3, 2009 at 2:12 pm

This onion soup sounds wonderful! I love how many different kinds of onions are used, too. That first pic is so pretty!

And I’ve got a couple of kitten kitchen helpers of my own, too 🙂


9 kristina August 3, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Jamie was my first chef crush too! I did get a bit fed up with him for a while, but then fell in love with him all over again as he got involved with so many fabulous causes/charities. They’re already promoting his new Jamie’s America series and book here in the UK.

But I digress…you’re onions look beautiful…

And now wondering whether I should admit our borough has polo matches every Sunday during the summer: free and you can bring a picnic!

K x


10 cheryl August 3, 2009 at 2:50 pm

haha.Id hve to agree with you on the “speacial outings” Giada has with al of her busy guys yup I’m sure they all LOVE her low cut shirts when shes whisking away in the kitchen.

The onion soup lokks fabulous I will be trying this recipe out next weekend for sure.atson is such a dear kitty helping you.too cute 🙂

Looking forward to seeing some more of your recipes and kitty


11 Lauren August 3, 2009 at 3:14 pm

This soup look divine! My husband is a huge fan of onion soup, so I will bookmark this recipe in my “to make” folder. Gorgeous photos, as well.


12 Lindsey August 3, 2009 at 3:50 pm

I know how you feel about the contrived gatherings that abound on the food network these days…I do love Giada, but her stories are definitely not so easy to relate to.

My nights of cooking usually consist of eating in front of the tv, right next to our perfectly capable dining table.


13 Kelly August 3, 2009 at 3:59 pm

That looks gorgeous. I’m going to have to save this recipe because I so love the blend of onions. There are always a range available to choose from as part of my CSA share and this seems like a great way to use them up.


14 pigpigscorner August 3, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Love the addition of sage. I love cooking with sage, it’s so fragrant and so flavourufl!


15 snooky doodle August 3, 2009 at 4:26 pm

this looks so so good! I d always wanted to try this recipe. Now I have to. 🙂


16 Diana August 3, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Oh man, I haven’t had dinner yet and this soup is making my mouth water!! Looks great! 🙂


17 Kerstin August 4, 2009 at 12:03 am

What a cute pic of Watson! Your soup looks better than any other version you could get at a restaurant with all those different types of yummy onions!


18 Monica H August 4, 2009 at 2:29 am

I have had some good onion soup in my day (thought I don’t really like onions) and I have had some awful, flavorless clear broth that was called onion soup (Red R.obin).

This looks mighty tasty!


19 Kelly August 4, 2009 at 6:54 am

Wow, my fiance would pretty much die of happiness if I made that for him!


20 Tabby Kelliher August 4, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Hi Erin,

Wow that looks so yummy! Even though it is hot out if you put a bowl of that wonderful soup in front of me right now I would devour it. I just love little Watson helping in the kitchen.


21 Zahavah August 4, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Always so funny to make soup in the summer, but this looks amazing. I made an onion soup back in May/June (when the rain would NOT stop) and have a picture of every single onion in my house chopped up not quite as beautifully as yours – I also had quite an array. I love the Naked Chef and remember some of his first shows, “tucking in” with his “mates.” The accent wins me over every time. And my cat, Prescott Winslow III like to cook with me as well – he seems to like butter – is that normal?
Best, Zahavah


22 Abbey August 4, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Oh My Goodness… This looks oh so good! And you’re right…I’ve tried French Onion many a-times and rarely is it what I would consider good. My worst experience with it was a recipe from Real Simple magazine. It was one of those “Only 5 Ingredients” recipes…that should have been my first clue! But the one thing that should have told me never to make this particular version was the use of canned fried onions…I probably could have used Funions and it would have been better! 🙂

Also…I totally agree with you concerning the Food Network chefs, their dinner guests, and dinner parties. Even Ina Garten sometimes irritates me with her choice of fellow eater. Though I love when she is cooking just for her and her lovely husband…it’s so cute.

And final thought… You would be so proud of me…I bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking today. I was so inspired by the movie and my current read: My Life in France. I’m very excited and very scared at the prospect of attempting to make anything from this cookbook. Any suggestions on what I should make first?

PS I’m going to make your soup for dinner tonight…I’ll let you know how it turns out.


23 Erin August 5, 2009 at 7:08 am

Truth be told I’ve never attempted a recipe in that cookbook yet. Every so often I take it down off the shelf and page through it in awe and then place it back where it came from. I do really need to make something from it now though. Hmm… at the very least I can guarantee that it wont be any of the aspics 😉


24 Aaron August 4, 2009 at 8:14 pm

yikes, that’s a lot of onions… but Oliver is the man, will have to try this someday. 3 day leftover rule? That’s when most leftovers are just starting to get good. 😉


25 Erin August 5, 2009 at 7:12 am

You have no idea…I was in the kitchen chopping away and battling Watson’s non-stop insistence on being right in the middle of everything I do and it sounded something like:

Me: *Sniffle* *Sniffle* “Watson! Get down!”
and escalated to —
Me: (tears running down my face from onion overkill) *Sob**Sob* “Get away from me cat! Get away! No! Don’t play with the onions! Stop it!”

As for leftovers…I think after three days they start to grow things 😉 or at least that’s what I fear in my OCD brain.


26 Abbey August 4, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Where did you get your adorable bakeware? I loooove them!!

PS I’m making the soup right now and the house smells HEAVENLY!!


27 Erin August 5, 2009 at 7:15 am

I bought my soup bowls just a few weeks ago at Crate and Barrel:


28 Anna August 6, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Oh wow, that looks delicious. I LOVE onion soup, and for some reason never make it at home. Nice reminder to do so! Also: love your first pic, of green and purple onions side by side. Lovely.


29 ttfn300 August 6, 2009 at 10:49 pm

i don’t usually get intrigued by french onion soup, but yours looks phenomenal! and watson is so adorable 🙂


30 Jonathan August 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Looks tasty. I’m a sucker for anything with garlic. Funny picture of Watson!


31 Talita August 9, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Delicious dish! Love onion with cheese! Lovely pics!


32 [email protected] on Art August 10, 2009 at 8:49 pm

What a fantastic variation on a classic!! Having lived in Britain for several years I think I would prefer this soup over the French. Especially since cheddar is involved!!!


33 [email protected] August 11, 2009 at 10:48 am

Your soup looks fantastic! It’s way too hot here for soup (high 90’s, eek!) but I’ll be trying this the minute it cools down. Yum.


34 Jenny August 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I made this today….soooooo good!


35 Linda September 14, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Realized this was posted awhile ago, with the weather on the verge of changing thought this would be good and easy to half in order to cook for 1. Question on leeks..do you include the white bulb part AND the stem/leaves. I bought leeks once and never got around to using them so am not sure how to cook with them. Thanks. I love reading about Watson and Dexter by the way!


36 Erin September 15, 2009 at 9:13 am

Hi Linda,
You just use the white/green parts of the bulb, not the really hard dark green leaves. I hope you enjoy the soup!


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