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Holland Marsh Onion Soup

Holland Marsh Onion Soup

By Executive Chef at Canoe, John Horne

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.

John Horne

John Horne

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.

– John Horne


  • 700 g (1½ lbs) good-quality butter
  • 20 large Holland Marsh (or other topquality 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)

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.

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