If you are a child of the ’70’s, or earlier, then you probably have fond memories of big bags of Ruffles potato chips and huge cartons of “French Onion Dip,” that salty, tangy sour-cream sin that Foodies today probably sniff at, waiting until a midnight run to an out-of-neighborhood 7-Eleven to get their secret fix. However, most of America was not really introduced to “Onion Dip” via cartons of French onion found in the dairy case at grocery stores.
You may have made a classic American homemade “Onion dip” with another American classic: Lipton Onion Soup mix. You may have supposed that Lipton came up with this based on the popularity of those pre-made dips. Well, in fact, Lipton introduced the Onion dip recipe on the back of its packages in 1952! Supposedly, it was a consumer who got the idea of mixing the soup mix into some sour cream for a quick onion dip, but Lipton rolled with it and it became an instant classic and a party tradition. Hey, it’s not bad. Especially if you have time to let it sit so that you aren’t getting bits of dried onion and a “powdery” consistency (which never completely goes away). But the problem with both the soup-mix and pre-made varieties — pre-made is better, in my opinion — is that they are made with dehydrated ingredients and they are much too salty. If you want something to taste “homemade” you can’t make it from a powder! Enter homemade French onion dip. Easy!
What is “French Onion?”
First, to understand why we are calling the dip French onion, as opposed to just onion dip, we need to understand what French onion means. It refers to French onion soup. French onion soup, a bistro classic, is sliced onions sauteed in butter until they are a nice deep caramelized brown and then stewed in a beef or veal broth, with a bouquet garni (a bundle or sachet of parsley, thyme, and bay leave). To serve, this stewed onion mixture is layered between slices of Baguette and Gruyère or other cheese (a blend of Gruyère and parmesan is often used, and some cooks even use cheddar!) ending with a bread and cheese layer on top that is melted into a crusty, golden top. In fact, this is more of a gratin than a soup, hence why it is often called in French “soupe à l’oignon gratinée.”
However, before you get too confused, realize that soup didn’t always refer to a thin, liquid mixture, and bread being put in soup was not only common, but part of the original idea of what soup was, as I pointed out in this article while tracing the origin, strangely enough, of the sopaipilla. Depending on the version, French onion soup may be more bread and cheese than soup; but some recipes emphasize the onion mixture more. It is, in itself, a rich and heavy meal. If you think about this traditional version, you may realize that one way to make a “dip” out of it would be to mix the stewed onion mixture into a bechamel and then add in Gruyère or other cheese for a cheesy creamy dip for bread. Cream could also be used for an even richer recipe.
But we’re not jonesing for something so heavy. We want the sour cream goodness of our rose-colored youth. So, realize that calling it “French onion” may be a bit of a stretch, because without the heavy bread and cheese, you just have caramelized stewed onions. However, it’s more French than just stirring some sauteed onions into sour cream, and it sounds more delicious. This homemade version is a pumped-up version of the classic, with Fresh herb flavors to brighten up the heavy caramelized onion flavor.
Homemade French Onion Dip
2 tbs butter
2 medium yellow onions, diced 1
1 cup beef broth (broth made from beef bouillon will work, but the result may be more salty than you’d like).
1 bay leave
1 to 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
pepper to taste
1/2 tsp finely minced fresh thyme
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 to 3 cups of sour cream, or half sour cream and half Greek yogurt 2
Note: The longer and slower you cook the onions the deeper and sweeter the flavor will be. You can leave out any one of the herbs but keep in mind that the herbs will nice bits of green, as well as a more vibrant flavor. You can use a chicken broth in place of the beef broth, especially a brown chicken “stock.” Homemade broth would be great, of course, but the distinction will be lost in the end result.
In a large heavy pot, melt the butter over medium heat and add the sliced onions, stirring until they release some liquid. Turn heat up to high briefly to evaporate the liquid, continuing to stir and don’t allow the onions to burn. Turn the heat back down to medium-low and keep stirring the onions occasionally while they caramelize to the desired brownness. Meanwhile, have two cups of sour cream ready in a bowl. When the onions are deep brown and there is no liquid left in the pan, pour in the beef broth and add in the bay leaf. Raise the heat to medium-high and stir occasionally while the broth reduces almost completely, forming a brown glaze with the onions. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of beef broth and the Worcestershire sauce, if desired (helps bring out the oniony, beefy flavor, adds “unami”) and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed, and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in the fresh thyme and parsley. Allow the mixture to completely cool.
Once the onion mixture is cool, stir it into the 2 cups of sour cream, or sour cream and Greek yogurt combination. Stir in the finely chopped chives to add a fresh mild onion flavor (pairing “fresh” flavor with deep cooked flavor is always a good idea). Blend well and taste for seasoning. If the mixture is too strong add some of the remaining sour cream until it is too your desired flavor level. Remember that the flavors will meld and intensify as the dip sits. Store in the fridge for at least a couple of hours before serving, and up to 8 to 12 hours for the best flavor. Your dip will have a slightly brown or beige color. Before serving, top with some additional chopped fresh chives to make it more attractive.
Serve topped with more fresh chives, if desired, for color and with thick ridged potato chips, of course! Or, yawn, serve it with fresh vegetables like carrot sticks, celery, and broccoli.
- For French onion soup you would slice the onions but for dip slices of onion make for difficult dipping.
- Of course, you can use all Greek or plain yogurt for a tangier taste. You can also add in cream cheese, although I find this to be over-kill. I would not recommend mayonnaise, in any proportion.