French Onion Beef Stew

When I was younger I had a spell of obsession with French cooking and culture. Maybe it had something to do with the beautiful French man I met in London or the Intro to Culinary Arts class I took in Community College, regardless it was a great learning experience. And this was back when I could have real butter! 

During this time, French Onion Soup was a regular menu item at the Grace house. I would suit up with apron and swimmer’s goggles to slave over a pan, waiting for the perfect shade of brown. I would wonder, what could I make with this to be a complete dinner? French Onion Soup was perfect for lunch or an appetizer, with protein and carbs in the cheezy, toasty bread-topping. Let’s be real, there are some pretty decent fake cheese products out there, but there’s nothing like real mozzarella and gruyère melted in each onion-y bite of your soup, so I wanted to get more creative with such a classic recipe.

The inspiration for my stew came from an instagram photo of something completely different, it was a delicious looking onion beef noodle soup with a Taiwanese-style broth. I love Taiwanese soup like no other, but this isn’t what my heart (stomach) was craving. I set out to make a French onion soup with shredded beef, which evolved as I went through the cabinets. I came across a bag of barley, an ingredient I love, but never utilize enough. Especially since Whole Foods broke my heart by removing their vegan Mushroom Barley soup from the hot bar recently…another recipe I need to tackle in the near future. 

Growing up, my dad taught me how to use a pressure cooker to make meals that would otherwise take hours, which was a game-changer in my culinary education. Consider yourself warned that if you don’t have one (or an Instant Pot), my recipe may seem inaccessible. PLEASE feel free to reach out to me for help redesigning a recipe for stovetop. I’m planning to try this recipe without my Instant Pot to figure out how a friend can make it.


Now that you have some background, the rest of this should be easy! MISE EN PLACE. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough. 80% of my screw-ups in the kitchen are because I’m not paying attention while I’m prepping the next steps. The other 20% of the time I’m trying to get the crazy mess I’ve made while cooking cleaned up and forget what I’m doing. So let’s vibe with Thom Yorke and make sure everything is in it’s right place.

I always try to bring meat, especially larger pieces, to room temperature before beginning so they will cook more evenly. I heated olive oil in my Instant Pot on the sauté setting and browned all sides of the beef, which was just a small chunk I saved after making tacos the night before. Once the beef was nicely browned I removed it and set it aside. Here’s where things take a little time – brown those onions until you start to worry they’re going to burn – BROWNING IS FLAVOR…though burning is not, so keep an eye on them. When things are looking good, save all those yummy bits stuck to the bottom of the pan by deglazing with some wine. I use whatever I’m drinking, using bad wine won’t taste as good in the outcome, I don’t think I need to explain this part. Cheers fellow wine-lovers, after all of this browning you’ve earned yourself a glass too! 

Moving right along, add your beef stock, pepper, bay leaves, and plop that beef from before right into the soup. This isn’t in my recipe, but I added a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce into the soup for an extra kick if you’re interested in trying this too. Set your pressure cooker for one hour. This is a good time to simmer your barley, it takes a while so just stir it occasionally until the water is absorbed. Slice your mushrooms if you haven’t already and you weren’t paying attention before when I said mise en place!

When your timer goes off, release the pressure and remove the beef, it should be ready for shredding. I usually do this on a separate plate with two forks. Remove the bay leaves, and add your barley, beef, and mushrooms to the soup. Pressurize your Instant Pot for a few more minutes. When the timer goes off give it another stir and serve with all of that sourdough bread you have all been making while in quarantine. Thanks for reading my first post, I look forward to sharing more recipes and projects with you soon!

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