How To: Caramelize Onions

Caramelized OnionsIt has been awhile since I have done a How To post, but not for lack of ideas!  Just lack of time.  I have a list of different How To sort of ‘tutorials’, if you will, that I am very excited to post here for your cooking pleasure.  And I am finally getting around to doing one!  Now, I should preempt this with the fact that I am kind of disappointed in the way these beautiful onions photographed.  The color is not nearly as lovely as it is in person and of course, you can’t smell it either.  Which really, is one of the best smells in the world.  I mean, come ON!  Onions sauteed in butter?!  Hel-LO!  It is right up there with the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  Am I right, people?

But back to the onions….
The ingredient list is so simple you won’t believe it.
3 onions
2 T Butter
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
And I am adding one more thing.  Patience.  You need to have patience to make caramelized onions.  Without it, you will f-a-i-l.  There is a restaurant near my house that has a caramelized onion bruschetta appetizer on the menu and they make it in five minutes.  The onions come out crunchy and tasteless.  It seriously drives me so crazy I lay away at night and dictate letters to their head chef in my head.  But I digress…

Let us get started!
Caramelized OnionsThree onions with stem ends removed, cut in half, skins removed, and then sliced stem end to stem end.  I happen to think this looks the best when caramelizing onions, but feel free to slice and dice however you feel it is necessary!
Caramelized OnionsVoila!  Three large, sweet onions sliced.  These happened to come from the Farmer’s Market and were labeled ‘Candy’ onions.  Lovely. Next, heat your butter and oil over medium heat.  I like to use a nonstick skillet, or even cast iron, but whatever you use will be fine.
Caramelized OnionsToss them in!
Caramelized OnionsOne quick note about my stove.  Due to the nature of our older house and the lack of certain requirements needed (like a way to run a gas line) I cook on a *gulp* electric stove.  Uhg. Doesn’t that even sound terrible?  I have no choice otherwise I would of course have a gas stove.  Basically, my point is that if I can cook the things I do on an electric stove that I spend a significant amount of time cursing at under my breath, then you can easily do this too.  Lighting in that part of my house also leaves something to be desired, but you work with what you have!  So!  Salt and pepper and give it a toss!
Caramelized Onions Caramelized OnionsAlready looking good, huh?  Here is where the patience thing comes in.  Give them a toss every few minutes, making sure they don’t actually fry.  You don’t want them to have color on them.  Just slow cooking, turning them translucent and bringing out the natural sugars.  Turn your heat down until you know they are cooking and you can just hear the sizzle, but again, not frying them.This is just after a few minutes.
Caramelized OnionsAnd this is another 5 minutes later.
Caramelized Onions
The color is already starting to deepen.  Pure flavor, baby!  Gah!  This smells so good!
This is another 5 minutes.
Caramelized Onions
At this point, some people like to add a teaspoon of sugar.  The onions are basically cooked, and you are just trying to ‘caramelize’ the sugars for flavor.  Adding a bit of sugar helps them along a bit, gives then a deeper color, and brings out even more of the sweetness of the onions.  I prefer to leave it out, but feel free to do whatever you like.

And another 5 minutes later.
Caramelized OnionsAlmost done!
Caramelized OnionsBeautiful.  Taste for seasoning.  And again, I just want to say that in person, these are a lot darker.  Regardless, they are ready to eat.  Use them immediately or chill in the fridge for up to a week.  My house guests were eating them out of the pan with a fork!  So sweet you won’t believe it.  The length of time it takes to get your onions to the end stage, which is really a matter of taste, depends on the water and sugar content of your onions, the temperature of your stove, and the heat distribution of the kind of pan you use.  But no matter what kind of combination of heat, pan, and onions, just be patient and taste them along the way to understand the reason for the process.  Next post, recipes to use these gems!  Assuming you don’t just eat them all with a fork! 🙂