Back to Basics: Caramelized Onions
When we go to a carte-blanche meal and the server asks me if there’s anything I don’t eat, my answer’s simple: “raw onions.”
I was an extremely picky eater as a kid — being a spoiled only child will do that to you — but I have gotten over most of my food prejudices. After seeing the light about tomatoes, I have been systematically trying the foods I held a prejudice against, trying to present them in a way that would turn my disposition (read: covered in cheese and/or bacon and/or deep fried). Mushrooms are now my friends. Brussels sprouts are addictive when deep-roasted and covered in a sweet-spicy fish sauce dressing. Snails? Slather those bitches in butter and garlic and bring ’em on. But no matter how many variations I try of raw onions with not a wisp of heat put to them, I always wince and move them to the side of my plate.
It’s better than eating no onions at all, right? I can certainly get down with an onion ring now. I accept that sweated onions are essential for… well… almost everything, but soups certainly. But my favorite way of preparing onions is, unsurprisingly, the least oniony of all: it’s onions taken past mere cooking into candy-land.
I like to make a batch of deeply caramelized onions on market days, when I can get a kilo for €1 sometimes. This huge pot of sliced onion cooks way, way, way down to just about a cup of mahogany jelly that goes well on sandwiches, sprinkled on top of roasted vegetables, etc. etc. etc.
- Open all of your windows. If you have eye protection, wear it. Peel and slice all of your onions, using a knife if you want to work on your knife skills or a mandoline if not. Save the ends of your onions for stock.
- In a large pot or casserole, toss the onions with several pinches of salt and several tablespoons of oil.
- Place the lid on the pot or casserole and put the heat on low. Let it go for about half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the onions release all of their juices. It should look quite soupy.
- Now remove the lid and continue to cook the onions, stirring every ten minutes or so, until the water has evaporated. Then you need to stir more often, as the onions will want to stick to the bottom of the pot more. Remember to keep your flame on low this whole time.
- Cook until the onions are a deep mahogany brown. Near the end, you could add a dash or two of balsamic vinegar or a spoonful of brown sugar to help it along.
- Store the caramelized onions in a glass jar in the fridge or in a zip-top bag in the freezer.
- Any time a recipe that starts with, “cook onions on low heat for 20-30 minutes” or something similar, just add a spoonful of caramelized onions and you’ve saved yourself half an hour of cooking.
- Make a grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized onions and provolone, and serve with beef broth for dipping — french onion soup sandwich!
- Sprinkle it on roasted veggies for a sweet bite.
- Mix with goat cheese to spread on crackers as an appetizer, or add to sour cream for onion dip.
- Bake it into bread or biscuits.
- Use it as a topping for pizza or on vegetable tarts.
- Add it to burgers, especially of the barbecue variety.
Music to cook by: You Or Your Memory [The Mountain Goats // The Sunset Tree]