how to caramelize onions
Lately, I’ve found myself craving the sweet, savory unctuousness of caramelized onions. Part of it is their versatility — I use them in everything from breakfast omelets to a topping for crostini or as the crowning glory on a dish of haricots vert. But if I’m honest, it’s the flavor — that slightly honeyed jamminess in every spoonful that makes me want more.
When I’ve made them in the past, it’s been for a particular recipe like this quiche. Trouble is, that turns a quick little meal into more of an endeavor because before you even begin to cook – you have to caramelize the onions. With my latest, incessant itch – I don’t want to be that far away from gratification.
So, I thought – make one big batch and freeze it into manageable portions – to be used at a moment’s notice. Smart, right? Here it is. A five pound bag of onions. Upon reflection, I think I should have done 10 pounds – because you need a lot of allium to yield a little of this caramelized nirvana.
But witness the metamorphosis above. It’s nothing short of amazing. This process isn’t difficult or labor intensive – you just have to be on hand for stirring the veg and monitoring the pot for hot spots — adjusting the heat when necessary.
Now, I’ve seen recipes for this with a “set it and forget it” mantra. “Slow-cooker” caramelized onions and “cooked in the oven” options, but I have doubts about the level of real caramelizing that goes on. I mean, sure — they’ll soften and reduce down. They’ll even give up their liquid.
But, in my humble opinion, to achieve the Maillard reaction that transforms these eye-stinging rings into the golden hued, barely held together, strands of mild sweetness that I’m looking for, requires two things. A sturdy dutch oven and patience.
You’re efforts will be rewarded with this satisfying, ready-for-anything condiment. I’m planning on sharing some of my favorite ways to use these beauties in the near future – so consider this post a primer for the good things to come.
- 1 5-pound bag yellow onions
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- special equipment: large dutch oven with a tight fitting lid
- Peel and thinly slice the onions. (save the roots and peels for making vegetable stock).
- Heat the dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions and cook gently, stirring for about 5 minutes to separate the rings of the onion and get them coated in the oil.
- Sprinkle on the salt and stir to combine. The salt will draw out the moisture in the onions. Cover with lid and reduce heat to medium low to continue cooking.
- Stir the pot every 15-20 minutes to assure that nothing is sticking to the bottom. If you see the onions browning -- the pan is too hot and you should reduce the heat. You want the onions to slump over the course of cooking. When they've given up all of their liquid, only then do they start to caramelize. Don't confuse "brown" with "caramel".
- Continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated and the onions take on a deep golden hue. The onions should be so tender that they almost fall apart and should be sweet.
- The cooking time will vary on the pot your using and the stove. Just keep checking on it regularly, stirring when necessary and not letting it stick to the bottom of the pot.
- 5 pounds of onions reduces to about 2 cups of caramelized onions. If you're not using it all at once, portion out and freeze the remainder in small containers until ready to use.