Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over 20 years. She has cooked on multiple television stations, including the Food Network.
Perfectly Caramelized Onions
How to Make Caramelized Onions
I love these—and my kids will literally eat an entire batch on its own if I don't move fast enough to stash them away to use in another dish. My oldest son calls them "onion candy," and once you make them, you'll see why.
Caramelized onions are sweet, savory, and enhance the flavor of so many dishes. They are the base for the iconic French onion soup and part of the incredible bacon jam, but can also elevate a simple sandwich or burger to an entirely new level. Throw them on a turkey club or a chicken burger, and you'll be hooked.
I'll give you the recipe first, then I'll walk you step-by-step through making this incredible relish.
Caramelized Onions Recipe - Ingredients
- 3-6 large onions, sliced - depending on how much you want to make*
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 6-7 cranks (1 teaspoon) freshly cracked black pepper
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)*
- 1 tablespoon sugar, (optional - and I'll talk about this later)
*I used three very large yellow onions in this batch, but I often use up to six or eight. I'll literally just slice onions until my pot is full—it holds 8 quarts. The other ingredients remain the same, with the exception of tasting and adjusting for salt and pepper when the onions are done.
*I say fresh thyme is optional, and it is. But it really brings a lovely flavor to the party, and I really prefer to use it if I possibly can.
Caramelized Onions Recipe - Directions
- Cut the ends—both root and stem—off the onions. Peel them, cut them in half, then slice thinly.
- In a large heavy bottomed saucepot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, salt, pepper, and thyme to the pot. (If using sugar, add it now.) Bring the pot up to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Stir often.
- Every few minutes, give the pot a stir. You'll notice that the onions first release a ton of liquid, then begin to soften and break down. Maintain a simmer and stir every 10 minutes or so, for about 45 minutes.
- Once you see the liquid that the onions released has almost completely evaporated, start checking and stirring more frequently. Keep the heat at medium to medium low.
- The onions will now begin to pick up color as the liquid is gone. Keep stirring, and start scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Eventually, you'll see the first dark brown bits. You're almost done.
- Keep stirring and scraping until you have lots of dark brown bits—at this point, you're done. It's very easy at this point to go from dark brown to burned, so be careful here. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. They're now ready to serve!
Types of Onions
What Types of Onions to Caramelize
You can caramelize any kind of onion—or really any vegetable, come to think of it. But my favorites are the large yellow onions. They're the least expensive, and they're the most pungent, and very strongly aromatic. They're also the most flavorful, and I think they make the best caramelized onions.
But feel free to use white onions if you like. They'll be great, and they are very widely available. My least favorite choice would be one of the 'sweet' onions such as Vidalias or Walla-Wallas. They're already naturally sweet, but the finished product wouldn't have the savory quality that a great caramelized onion has. They just don't pack the punch that I think is needed in the final dish.
Cut the Onions in Half
Slice the Onions Thinly
Sliced Onions Ready to Go
Sliced or Diced?
It doesn't really matter—you can dice the onions if you like. Diced onions can lead to more surface area, and better, more consistent browning. It may also be a tiny bit faster, but I'm not so sure of that part.
Slicing the onions is simply my preference. I like the texture that the slices give the finished product. I think it may be the more traditional way, as well. But I could be imagining that part. I do that a lot.
Time for Thyme
Reducing the Liquid
Evaporation Equals Flavor
In the culinary world, evaporation is most often called reducing. You're reducing the amount of liquid, which leaves behind the concentrated flavor.
In the case of onions, you're evaporating off a lot of water. I'd say that the three onions I used in these photos generated almost a cup of liquid. Keep the pot at a simmer and let the water evaporate. What remains are the flavor compounds and the sugars, and it's the sugars which will end up turning that gorgeous golden brown and give that amazing sweet and savory flavor.
Danger, Will Robinson...
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Have you tried this technique?
© 2017 Jan Charles