I’ll never forget the first time I ordered French onion soup. It was at an old-timey café and pie shop in my Kansas hometown, the sort of place where groups of retired ladies meet to sip sherry at noon and giggle about their husbands. I thought it was fancy, and I LOVED it. This Instant Pot French Onion Soup is a quick and easy way to make French onion soup in an electric pressure cooker. A classic French onion soup recipe that tastes like Julia Child and Ina Garten recipes but is easy and more healthy!
My grammy treated my sisters and me for lunch on special occasions, and when I spotted a bowl of what appeared to be thick-cut bread magically floating beneath a golden lid of toasted, gooey cheese, I immediately needed to know what this mysterious, glorious substance was.
My grammy informed me that it was classic French onion soup. Though I cannot remember this part word for word, as the woman who had cooked me homemade macaroni and cheese for my birthday by my personal request for 10 consecutive years, my hunch is that she added something along the lines of “You’ll love it.”
I was a picky eater as a kid, and I have a feeling that back then, the concept of onion soup would have made me skeptical.
My love of toasted bread and cheese must have triumphed, because order French onion soup I did, and to this day, I still remember it as the best French onion soup in the world.
Prior to making this homemade Instant Pot French Onion Soup recipe, I could not tell you the last time I had it. I don’t often see French onion soup on restaurant menus, and if I did, I must have ordered something else.
As delicious as French onion soup can be (and it is delicious—even my persnickety elementary school self adored it), it is also a commitment.
Butter, cheese, and bread are used without any manner of restraint, and while that is a tasty prospect in some ways, the amount in most classic recipes (think Julia Child or Ina Garten) is too much for me in a single bowl of soup.
P.S. Please don’t tell Julia Child or Ina Garten I said that. Ina, if you are reading this, I’d still love to come to the Hamptons and be your BFF. I make great cocktails, and I bet you’ll even like this lighter recipe for Instant Pot French Onion Soup!
Lighter French Onion Soup
When I set out to create a recipe for French onion soup that wouldn’t send me into a complete food coma, I knew that if I was going to reduce the amount of butter and cheese, I was going to have to come up with something else to compensate for their flavor. I found my answer in two parts.
- Part 1: The Broth. Despite all the flashy bread and cheese on top, broth is the heart of French onion soup’s flavor.
It’s what those thick slices of bread soak up to become all the more delicious. It’s what gives the onions a home. It’s what you’ll be slurping from your spoon.
To give the broth a deep, natural flavor, I used beef bone broth.
Bone broth has been trending in the health sphere over the last few years. It’s popular for sipping (it’s very high in protein) and is excellent for cooking too.
- Part 2: Caramelized Onions, a.k.a. the sweet nectar of the cooking goods.
Caramelized onions give the French onion soup a large amount of flavor, without the need for excess.
They have an intense sweet and savory flavor that makes them one of the most fantastic culinary tools you can add to your repertoire. I love them in or on just about anything—pizza, sandwiches, pastas, dips, mac and cheese, directly out of the pan, and of course, French onion soup.
Ordinarily, caramelizing a large batch of onions takes 45 minutes or more. I might do that on a Sunday.
On a weekday? Maybe if my laundry is done, my giant pile of mail sorted, and I get through the ever-growing stack of cooking magazines that is threatening to force our coffee table into submission.
To make the Instant Pot French onion soup recipe attainable on even a busy weeknight, I caramelized the onions in my Instant Pot.
It makes the process completely hands off; the onions caramelized in just 20 minutes of pressure, AND you can cook the rest of the same pot, so you’ll still only have one pan to clean in the end. (More one-pan recipes can be found in this post, 15 Healthy Instant Pot Recipes!)
Although a lighter pressure cooker French onion soup recipe might not be traditional, the way I finished it off was: thick slices of baguette, a sprinkle of cheese, and a quick toast underneath the broiler.
For the cheese, I recommend picking something with a robust flavor.
Gruyère is a traditional French onion soup cheese, and if I could only have one cheese in my French onion soup for the rest of my life, that would be it. Incidentally, it is also incredible on a grilled cheese sandwich or in a cheese fondue.
That said, if you can’t find Gruyère, any fully flavored, nutty, and easy-melting cheese would be a great swap. Try fontina, gouda, or in a pinch, sharp white cheddar. The key is to pick something with a lot of flavor so that a) you don’t need as much and b) your soup has a lot of flavor too.
Tools to Make Instant Pot French Onion Soup
- Instant Pot
- I served mine in 12-ounce ramekins. You can use larger or smaller, depending upon what size serving you would like.
More Favorite Instant Pot Soups
- Instant Pot Carrot Soup with Ginger
- Instant Pot Potato Soup
- Instant Pot Chili
- Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup (Instant Pot or Slow Cooker)
Instant Pot French Onion Soup
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 very large yellow onions or Spanish onions, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 2 1/2 pounds)
- 2 cloves garlic minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 2 springs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup dry red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon
- 4 cups beef bone broth or beef stock
- 4 cups beef stock
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 8 to 12 slices small baguette cut about 3/4-inch thick
- 4 ounces freshly grated Gruyère cheese white cheddar, fontina, and gouda, while less traditional, are also delicious
- Turn the Instant Pot (or similar electric pressure cooker) to sauté. Add the butter and let melt. Once melted, add the onions, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf and stir to combine. Cook, stirring, until onions slightly soften and start to release liquid, about 5 minutes. Stir in 3 tablespoons water. Cover and seal the Instant Pot, then set to cook on HIGH pressure (manual setting) for 20 minutes. Release pressure to vent immediately.
- Remove the lid, then turn the Instant Pot back to sauté. Cook for 5 minutes until some of the liquid evaporates, then add the wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any brown bits that have collected on the bottom of the pot. Let simmer for 10 minutes, until most of the wine has evaporated. Discard the thyme stems and bay leaf.
- Add the bone broth and stock. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the soup thickens, about 10 minutes. Add the salt and pepper, then taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.
- For the bread topping: When you’re ready to serve, preheat the oven broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the Gruyère. Broil until bubbly and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, watching constantly towards the end so that the bread does not burn. Ladle the soup into bowls, then float the bread on top. Enjoy! Alternatively, if you have ovenproof bowls, you can ladle the soup into them first, top with each with a baguette slice and cheese, then arrange the bowls on a baking sheet and place the sheet under the boiler, until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.
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