To make caramelized onions really only need one thing and that’s patience. Well, technically you also need some onions, oil, and stock/water but those ingredients are irreverent without patience. There isn’t a secret trick or formula other than you want the onions to brown but not burn. Personally, any recipe that calls for adding sugar or baking soda to speed up the process won’t produce that silky, sweet flavor. Somethings are just worth the wait and for me good caramelized onions are one of those things. This recipe is not quick but it is easy if you set aside about an hour of your time and bring a cup of patience.
There are endless recipes that use caramelized onions from French Onion Dip to French Onion Soup and a thousand dishes in between. As they say, the world is my oyster or in this case, the world is my caramelized onion.
5 Things to Know When Making Caramelized Onions
Use a Wide Saucepan
You want the onions to cook not steam. If they are in a narrow saucepan they will steam like other vegetables. You want the onions to have plenty of room to cook and for the released moisture to evaporate. A wide saucepan with higher sides will give the onions plenty of room and the higher sides will keep the onions from spilling out onto your stove.
You Can Use Any Onions
Any onion can be used to make caramelized onions but some produce a sweeter flavor than others.
- White onion: have a bite to them as well as sweetness
- Sweet onion: are the mildest of onions that have less sulfur so the natural sweetness comes through but have the highest water content so will require longer cooking
- Red onion: in raw form are spicy but when cooked they will loose some of the spice and become sweeter
- Yellow onion: with a flavor and sweetness between yellow and red they are the most common and preferred for cooking
Best Fat for Caramelizing Onions
You can use any fat to caramelize onions -butter, vegetable oils, nut oils, lard, or animal fat but each can add flavor (or not) to your caramelized onions. My preferred fat is a combination of butter and olive oil. The butter helps start the browning process and will add another layer of richness. The olive oil with its higher smoke point will help keep the onions from burning, and I like the slight peppery bitterness that the olive oil brings to the onions. However, avoid extra virgin olive oil since its smoke point is lower.
Effects of Using Baking Soda
Using baking soda will speed up the “caramelization” process since it increases the pH. But with any action, there is always a reaction. While baking soda will speed up the process by about 75% it changes the texture of the onions. The onions will dissolve a bit more and you will get onions that are more like onion jam than caramelized onions.
How to Use Caramelized Onions
There are many ways to use caramelize onions but here are a few of my favorites:
- French Onion Soup – you will want to caramelize the onions until they are a blond color
- French Onion Dip – use golden-brown or caramel-colored caramelized onions
- Burger toppings – caramelize the onions until a deep golden brown and the edges are nearly crisp
The longer you caramelize the onion the browner and sweeter the onions will get. The level of caramelization will change the texture and flavor as the onions breakdown. The length of caramelization depends on how you are using your onions.
Let’s Get Cooking
Are you ready to Caramelize Onions? Grab your widest pan to avoid overcrowding and allow the moisture to evaporate as the onions caramelize. I also recommend a wooden spoon for deglazing the pan.
Pro-tip: Make a bigger batch than you need. Caramelized onions will last approximately 5 days in the refrigerator but can easily be frozen. Ice trays and muffin tins work great at creating smaller portions. They will last about 3 months in the freezer.
How To Make Caramelized Onions
- large sauce pan with high sides
- 3 large peeled sweet or yellow onions, (about 1.5 pounds)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1.5 cups water or chicken stock
- Rough chop onions so that slices are between ⅛ and ¼ inches thick.
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Once the butter has melted add onions and sweat them until they become translucent.
- Reduce heat to low and continue to cook onions, stirring every 5-10 minutes to prevent them from sticking. Deglaze pan with water or chicken stock when fond starts to form on the pan.
- As onions continue to caramelize, continue stirring every 5-10 minutes and deglazing the saucepan as fond forms.
- When the onions achieve a blonde color they are perfect for cooking French Onion Soup.
- When the onions achieve a golden-brown or caramel color they are perfect for making French Onion Dip.
- When the onions achieve a deep golden-brown which is a perfect topping to burgers or pizza.
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