recipe: holland marsh onion soup

Chef John Horne shares his simple recipe for a Canadian interpretation of French onion soup.


Posted by Canoe
on February 9, 2016


“When I was a kid, I used to like to make French onion soup with my mom—who added everything together and cooked it out to produce a great, clean onion flavour. Every chef I’ve worked for, in every country I have worked in since, has had his own way of making it, and something new or different to add. One chef taught me to mix in tomato paste for richness; another chef in England demanded I always cook it an hour longer, after I said it was done; another taught me to take my time, do it right, and leave it alone. The recipe is so simple that little things like that make the soup taste different, even when you’re using the same ingredients. So, making this soup taught me a lot of things. Like when you’re cooking, to trust all your senses—sound, smell, taste or just a feeling—instead of relying only on your sight. Most of all, it taught me the importance of patience. You cannot rush this soup. You have to let it grow and develop into the rich deep flavours it can only produce given time.

At Canoe, I wanted to make this soup as true to Canada as possible using the little tips I learned working abroad. So I make it with local, freshly picked onions from the Holland Marsh, a fertile, drained riverbed that is now amazing farmland. Just cutting into a raw onion reminds me of the smell of the Marsh during their onion harvest; then, making and eating the soup makes me feel good about everything I have gone through to get where I am today.”

– Chef John Horne

700 g (1½ lbs) good-quality butter
20 large Holland Marsh (or other top quality local) onions, peeled, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise
Salt and pepper
6 L (6 quarts) brown fowl stock (made with roasted bones of duck, goose, pheasant and chicken)
250 mL (1 cup) Madeira
250 mL (1 cup) sherry
300 mL (1¼ cups) Screech
1 sachet of thyme, rosemary, parsley stems, black peppercorns and crushed juniper berries
1 tbsp tomato paste

For garnish:
Rye croutons
Thin-sliced Thunder Oak Gouda
Roasted veal marrow
Thyme and parsley leaves (or some variation thereof)

Makes 8 Servings

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt butter over medium heat, add onions and stir well. Season generously. Lower heat and continue cooking, stirring regularly, until the onions become so caramelized that they acquire the colour of dark leather—about four to six hours. (This takes patience and is the most important step of the recipe). When you think that the onions are done, cook them at least 30 minutes more. (Not kidding!) Add the tomato paste and the sachet, stir well, and cook for another 10 minutes. Raise heat and add Madeira, Screech and sherry one at a time, and reduce to syrup. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer uncovered until it looks like the onions have taken over the stock—about one to two hours. Set aside off-heat for a minimum of 45 minutes (or ideally, overnight). Reheat soup, taste, and correct seasonings. Serve in warm shallow bowls. Top each serving with a scattering of croutons, a thin slice of Thunder Oak Gouda, two spoonfuls of roasted veal marrow, and some fresh thyme and parsley leaves.

This recipe originally appeared online at Canada’s 100 Best.