Want to know how much your personal chef LOVES you?
Ask for caramelized onions!
In all seriousness, though, it’s the time spent over the hot stove that makes this classic technique a real labor of
LOVE to me. Honestly, I don’t trust any recipe that talks about caramelizing onions in 5-10 minutes. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN, FOLKS!!!
Soften until opaque? It’s possible.
Lightly brown? Maybe.
But true caramelization is a complex chemical process that requires time, in addition to heat. 5-10 minutes simply will not cut it here. We’re talking a *minimum* of 35-45 minutes, people, in order to earn the right to savor the truly rich lusciousness that is caramelized onions. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying to you–AND, you are MORE than welcome to tell them that I said so, too!
So, how does it really work? Well, technically, you can sauté your onions to the point that they become caramelized. However, I’d recommend an added step to make the whole process a little easier on yourself.
1 – Cut off the ends of the onions, halve from pole-to-pole, then peel to remove the dry outer paper. Store clean scraps in a freezer bag for making stock.
2 – Thinly slice onions following the naturally-occurring ribbed lines from top to bottom until you have a large pile of crescent-shaped pieces.
3 – Heat your chosen fat in a large skillet on top of the stove over medium high heat. Toss in all of the onions to coat. Season with a bit of salt to help draw out the moisture. Then, add a small amount of water over the onions. Cover and steam to soften the onions, 5-10 minutes. Be sure there is enough water to continue steaming without evaporating entirely.
4 – Remove the lid and stir to ensure that all of the onions have softened. Continue to sauté over medium heat until all of the water has evaporated, stirring occasionally.
5 – Spread softened onions evenly across the bottom of your pan with a spatula to begin browning. Once the bottom is completely covered, do not disturb the onions for a full 5 minutes.
6 – After 5 minutes have elapsed, stir the onions completely, ensuring all of the pieces that were in contact with the bottom are thoroughly tossed with the rest of the onion mixture. Then, spread the onions into an even layer across the bottom of the pan once again, ensuring that pieces that may not have been in contact with the heated surface are rotated with those that were. Do not disturb for a full 5 minutes again.
7 – Repeat this process, gradually reducing the 5 minute do-not-disturb time as the onions slowly darken in color. When they have reached the deep caramel color you desire, cut the heat, remove from the stove, and add to your favorite dishes with LOVE!
Here are a few observations you may find helpful along the way:
A non-stick pan isn’t required for this process. You may actually get MORE satisfactory browning sooner without it, but it will also require a closer eye on the color changing produce.
If you’re going to take the time to caramelize onions, I highly recommend that you go big! They cook down significantly in volume, while magnifying the intensity and complexity of flavors. I don’t cook down anything less than 5-6 large onions at a time, and I will often pile in as many as my pan can hold.
Your choice of fat will affect the initial rate of browning, as well as the initial flavor of your onion sauté. Only add enough to lightly coat the onions in the initial toss. Resist the urge to add MORE after the steaming step. By the time you reach the full and final levels of caramelization, in my experience, these differences become negligible.
If your onions start to brown too quickly, turn down the heat. If it feels like it’s taking forever, you’re welcome to increase the heat. Be sure to watch them carefully, however you adjust the temperature. If they stick badly as they brown, you may add a small splash of water to the affected area of your pan, and use your spatula to scrape up any brown bits. Remember, the caramelization process works because you are slowly burning the natural sugars in your onions. They are supposed to get sweet and sticky! Regular stirring helps you ensure that this process happens slowly and evenly, so please be patient. It is absolutely worth the wait!!!
How will you share the LOVE with your next batch of caramelized onions? We’d like to see! Join our #PLAYwithYourFood Community, where you can share your drool-worthy food photos and join in the conversation about all of the other delicious dishes we’re cooking up with caramelized onions!