How To: Caramelize Onions

Although my mother was not the biggest fan of cooking, in our years together in the kitchen before her passing, she left me with some favorite recipes, fond memories, and some non-traditional food addictions. With that said, it's time to confess that I absolutely love caramelized onions. And where do you suppose I got my fondness for them? That's right. From my mother. I can't even begin to count the number of times I walked into the kitchen to find her standing at the stove, making up a batch and then eating the onions straight out of the pan with her fingers because she was too eager to bother with a plate or a fork. It's really no surprise that I sometimes do the same thing when I want to snack on something sweet.

Onions | Taste As You Go

Caramelized Onions

You'll need:
  • Onions
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Water

I typically use yellow onions, but you can caramelize any kind of onion that you want. Once you've chosen your onion, slice the top and bottom off and then cut the onion in half from top to bottom. Remove the peel. Do this with all of the onions you plan on caramelizing (see Food Tip #1).

Slice each onion half into half-rings. You don't need to worry about the thickness of the slices as long as you keep in mind that thinner slices will cook faster than thicker ones. Place a large skillet on the stove and add enough extra-virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. For an added layer of flavor, I like to add butter to the olive oil, but that addition is completely optional. Heat the oil over medium-high temperature, making sure that the pan doesn't get too hot.

How To Caramelize Onions | Taste As You Go

When the oil begins to ripple, add the onions. Stir the onions until they are coated with oil, then season with salt and pepper (see Food Tip #2). Reduce the heat to a medium temperature and continue to stir the onions every so often.

How To Caramelize Onions | Taste As You Go

After about a minute, the will start to brown in color and will start sticking a bit to the bottom of the pan. Don't panic! You want this to happen. Continue stirring and watching as the natural sugars are released and as the onions continue to deepen and darken in color.

How To Caramelize Onions | Taste As You Go

It's not unusual to have the onions stick to the bottom of the pan during this process. If you find that to be the case with your onions, you can deglaze the pan by pouring a bit of water (or broth, wine, balsamic vinegar, etc.) into the pan. Stir the onions and scrape the browned bits up off the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring until the onions have been released, allowing all of the added liquid to evaporate.

How To Caramelize Onions | Taste As You Go

Continue in this manner until the onions have reached the color, flavor (taste as you go!), and texture that you desire. Depending on how many onions you are caramelizing, this may take a while, so be patient. For the three onions pictured above, the caramelizing process took about 30 minutes. See how much those onions cooked down?

How To Caramelize Onions | Taste As You Go

Now, there are so many things you can do with caramelized onions (besides eating them directly out of the pan) that it's worth learning how to prepare them. The following recipes represent only a small fraction of possibilities:

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Cornbread
Flatbreads with Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions, and Basil
Pork Chops with Braised Fennel and Caramelized Onions
Pizza Blanco
Sage and Caramelized Onion Risotto Cups
Savory Pumpkin-Caramelized Onion Muffins

Also, just think how amazing these caramelized onions would be on top of those grilled meats you'll be preparing this Memorial Day Weekend!

Stay tuned to see how I used these caramelized onions! So, what do you do with caramelized onions?

Food Tip #1: Onions reduce in volume quite a bit during the caramelizing process, so I generally allow one medium-sized onion per person.

Food Tip #2: Adding a pinch of salt to the onions will speed up the caramelizing process by drawing out some of the moisture in the onions. That moisture will eventually evaporate during cooking.

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