Onions, Caramelization and You

caramelized onions

If you’ve never made caramelized onions before then you’ve been missing out. It has to be the best way to have onions.

…If you don’t count deep frying them.

I can understand if you were intimidated and didn’t want to venture into the deep, dark, scary road that is caramelizing onions. But at the same time, I don’t understand at all!

Like all things that are worth making in the kitchen, the secret behind caramelizing onions is not what kind of onion you use; it’s not about the inclusion of a super secret ingredient or what color your underware is that day. It’s simply… Wait for it… Patience.

A lot of people, including myself, have instructed to “cook your onions for 5 to 10 minutes on med-high heat until they’re brown in color”. While it’s possible to change the color of an onion in that time, you’re not getting a true caramelization. At least, not like you would if you cooked them slow. The temperature is a big factor as well. So big, in fact, it should be listed as an ingredient. “Med-high” is definitely not the way to make caramelized onions. The cooking temp – in this case a steady medium, is crucial in letting the natural sugars in the onion break down and become caramelized.

It’s a simple technique I learned many, many years ago; and when you do it once, you’ll realize setting the time aside is worth it. The flavor is deep and concentrated and you’ll give a whole new appreciation for the onion.

As far as what you can do with caramelized onions is up to you and is only limited to your likes. While possibilities are numerous, a few options you have are putting them in or on baked potatoes, sauces, soups (Mmm, French Onion soup), pizzas, burgers, grilled cheeses, breads like focaccia, or my favorite – a nice layer of them on a medium cooked steak. Damn the drool on my keyboard…


Caramelized Onions

               4-6 each ~ Onions, medium or large, sliced medium
1-2 tablespoons ~ Butter (depending on amount of onions)
      1 tablespoon ~ Oil
     good pinches ~ Salt and Pepper
                   ¼ cup ~ Brown Sugar, lightly packed
                   ¼ cup ~ Red Wine Vinegar
                     pinch ~ Thyme (optional)


Notes:

  • You can do one or two onions, sure. But why waste your time? Plan ahead and make a batch that you could use for various things over the course of 10 days or so. As long as they’re in a container and in your fridge they’ll be fine.
  • I’ve never tried it but I heard they even freeze well. So pop some in an ice cube tray and freeze them then pop the onion cubes in a bag to use as you’d like.
  • The salt is going to help you by speeding up the process of extracting the moisture from the onions.

Alright let’s talk onions

  • First thing’s first, you gotta slice your onions. If you’ve never sliced onions then I can’t do anything for you. Well, I guess I could show you a picture and just hope you’re not completely lost.

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  • Get a nice sized pan or pot – don’t be afraid to use a pot – one big enough to hold the amount of onions you’re doing, and melt the butter with a little bit of oil on medium heat. Medium. So if your stove is normal and goes up to 10 (if it’s awesome and rocks it goes to 11), then put it on 5.

Why oil and butter? I’m glad you asked.

It’s simple really. Butter has a low smoke point meaning that it doesn’t take too much heat to get it to break down and begin to burn. Oil on the other hand has a higher smoke point so if you add a little bit of oil to your butter before sautéing or pan frying anything, the butter will go a lot longer before it burns on you.

  • Once your butter and oil are hot and bubbling, add the sliced onions along with the salt and pepper. Toss them a bit to get everything coated and then let them sit there getting its sizzle on for about 10-15 minutes.

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Other than peeking underneath an edge to check the color after the 10 minute mark, do not touch them.

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  • When you see the top is all sweated and the bottom is beginning the transformation, give it another few minutes before you start to toss it around. After tossing, continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes until you get a nice caramel color.

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  • You can keep on going from here and continue cooking till you get a darker color, but this is good enough for me and it’s where I add the brown sugar and the red wine vinegar. Once added, cook for about 4 or 5 minutes until the vinegar is reduced and you’re left with nice, syrupy caramelized onions.

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And that be that. You can now add caramelized onions to your repertoire. Like I said they store easily can be used in tons of dishes so go nuts with them!

 

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