Onions— a humble ingredient that is quite often misunderstood. People either hate it completely or impartial to it. Rarely, you will find individuals that love them for the aromatic that they are. A few months ago, after an experimental dish with brussels sprouts, I became the exception. “Why didn’t I think of this before?!”—were the words I kept repeating over and over to myself. The one addition that would change my world forever and possibly yours soon? Time—that’s it.
To start the Back to Basics series here in the Food Lab (aka my kitchen), I wanted to share my secret addition to many of my very own meals at home: caramelized onions. This simple addition will turn any ordinary recipe into an extraordinary one. I put caramelized onions in almost everything. Seriously. I mix them in with goat cheese and on my sandwiches, top or stir fry with proteins, blended in sauces, tossed in side dishes, fresh crisp salads that needs extra oomph, practically every pasta dish under the sun, and the list goes on. Trust me on this. Onions, when caramelized, is magic.
Before we get started, I wanted to point out that there are many variations to this pleasant, sweet & savory addition. You can add or substitute many ingredients such as sugar to make it sweeter (also cheating), a liquid to deglaze the pan such as balsamic vinegar or wine, butter for richer flavor, pepper for flair, and so on. Feel free to get as fancy as you please or keep it simple with the minimal ingredients. I’ll show you how I manage to pull off this easy recipe in only 25 minutes with 3 simple ingredients: yellow onion, olive oil, and a pinch of kosher salt.
What you'll need: - 4 cups yellow onion, diced - olive oil - kosher salt - frying pan with fitted lid
Dice Your Onions
The smaller they’re chopped, the faster they’ll cook. Slicing your onions in larger wedges will require more time (~40 minutes, depending on size and heat) to reach caramelization.
- Observe your yellow onion and notice the two ends: root and stem. The root is the rougher end that keeps all layers of the onion bulb together. The stem is the opposing end with the leaves tapering inward.
- Cut ONLY the stem off. Stand onion upright with the root end facing the ceiling.
- Slice onion vertically down through the root, creating two halves. Peel the outer leaves exposing the onion layers. Lay halves flat side down with the ends pointing to your left and right.
- Working in halves, cup your hand over the onion and tightly hold together as you make vertical slices while making sure NOT to slice through the root. (The root is there to help you hold everything together. Without it, this simple task will turn into a messy nightmare.)
- Keeping your hand cupped over the onion, lay your knife flat and carefully make horizontal slices and again, make sure to stop right before you reach the root.
- Continue to slice your onion and once reached, discard the root ends.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it the first time, it just takes a bit of practice!
Choose a pan large enough to hold onion while allowing it enough room to evenly spread out for a more even cook. We’re using a lid so we can lock in moisture, heat, and avoid it from burning.
- Warm your pan over medium-high heat and coat with olive oil once hot. Add onions to pan and sauté until translucent. Cover pan, lower heat to medium, and allow to sit while stirring occasionally to avoid burning.
- After approximately 5 minutes, your onions will start to have color. The caramelization process is starting. Give the onions a stir and cover. Allow to sit and check back every five minutes to give it a stir.
- After 10 more minutes, your volume will noticeably shrink and the onions will look really close to what we want. Not quite there yet. Partially cover with lid and allow to sit.
- After 5-10 more minutes, your onions will look pretty much done. Complete by seasoning with kosher salt and/or other spices.
That’s it. You’re done! Now get crazy & creative with what you just accomplished and make your tasty dreams come true!