Skyrocketing Savory Dishes with Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions

Photo Credit: Emily

Aren’t we all looking for ways to give simple dishes that extra oomph to make its flavor go skyrocketing? The caramelized flavors of onions can do that to a traditional or simple meal. It can go onto a pizza, layered on a burger or sandwich and make snacking or dining a totally awesome experience. Spoon it into soups, salads or sauces to transform a regular fare into a gastronomic dish. The best thing is it is so easy to prepare. With a simple recipe and some patience you can certainly make decadent and savory spreads every day when you take the time to sweat it out in your own kitchen.

The Basic Caramelized Onions

If you have the time, turn to The Kitchn’s How To Caramelize Onions, which offers an easy, slow, step-by-step cooking recipe. The most important thing is, give it the time it needs to develop that sweet, umami flavor that lifts everything it touches.   

You can’t rush true caramelized onions. Bump up the heat and they scorch. Add brown sugar or balsamic too early, and they may look like caramelized onions, but they’ll lack that deeply caramelized, hauntingly savory flavor.

Nope, the only way is to grab your biggest pan, set a burner to medium heat, and let those pungent alliums cook slooooow. At this temperature, the sugars in trapped inside the onion layers caramelize steadily, never burning but growing ever more golden and delicious.

How to Do It

Here is the step-by step cooking procedure and what to note during the process at specific times.

Step 1 – Prepare the onions: Pick any onion you like; explore your options. But if you must know, yellow onions are the most versatile and the ones that deliciously caramelize. Trim the tips and roots of 2-4 large pieces of yellow onions; halve them to easily remove the outermost skins. Slice them into thin slices, or dice them.

Step 2 – Heat the skillet: It is best to use a cast iron or stainless steel skillet that allows the building and scraping up of fond in the bottom.  Use medium heat to melt 2 tablespoons of butter or extra virgin olive oil. The best to use is a combination of butter, if you like the buttery taste, and EVOO to prevent burning the butter.

Step 3 – Add the sliced onions: Put them in the pan and mix gently to coat every piece with butter-EVOO mixture.

Step 4 – Caramelization starts: Check the process after every 5 to 10 minutes to stir and scrape up the fond that are forming on the bottom of the pan. The cooking times will depend with the quantity of onions used, their sugar and water content, and their age. This quantity will take about 30 minutes to complete.

  • In 10 Minutes: Onions start to become translucent and watery.
  • In 20 Minutes: At this point, the onions will start to break down while some will start to caramelize. If fond starts to develop, scrape up and adjust the heat to prevent the onions from burning.
  • In 30 Minutes: At this phase, they will be transformed into a jammy mixture, while more fond builds up. Continue to scrape it up.
  • In 40 Minutes: The onions are now very caramelized and looking golden. For a deeper caramelized flavor, continue the process.
  • In 50 Minutes or More: The caramelized onion has now turned dark in color. Check the onions more often to make sure it won’t get burned. Deglaze when needed.

Step 5 – Deglaze the pan and season: Fond will form as it gets fully caramelized. Continue to scrape up and add a little liquid – water, 1/4 cup wine, balsamic vinegar, or broth to deglaze. Add salt to taste.
Are you ready to lift the flavors of food in your home with that “sweet, umami hit”? After making caramelized onions, storing them in the refrigerator (for up to 1 week) or freezer (for up to 3 months), so you’ll have a ready-made flavor-booster at the tip of your fingers to transform a dull baguette or broth into something to perk your mornings, days or nights.

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