January 23, 2014
Back to Basics: Caramelized Onions
Confession: I have never met an onion I didn't want to caramelize. There's just something about the sweetness and depth of flavor that it adds to a dish. I have to regularly remind myself that not every recipe will be better with a caramelized onion…even if it does make the house smell divine. Sometimes, though, it just the thing to elevate what you're cooking from boring to something special. We use it as a topping for steak, added into a pasta sauce, even in grilled cheese.
I once read that a famous hostess would time her dinner prep so that the house would smell of caramelized onions just as her guests were arriving. That is a smart lady…and I may or may not have tried it myself a few times.
There are no unusual ingredients in this, and it can be done well in advance. I usually do 2-3 onions at a time but this is easily adjusted for more or less. The only real difference will be how long it takes.
You will need:
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 big pinches of kosher salt
1/2 tsp brown sugar (optional)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
Start by peeling the onions and chopping them in half. Then slice them so they look like half moons.
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and stir so that they are coated.
Simmer until they start to soften and brown, about 7-10 minutes. Then add the salt and stir together. Continue simmering for another 20 minutes or so until they are really soft, brown and broken down. You want to stir every few minutes, but you don't need to stand over the stove stirring constantly.
At this point, if you would like, add the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Just stir for another minute or two and you're done. I don't always do this if I'm putting the onions directly into a sauce, but if they will be the focus of the dish (say a pizza topping or in that grilled cheese) then I do. It just heightens the flavor a bit more. Use the vinegar to deglaze the pan a little, as anything sticking to the pan will be extra caramelized and even more flavorful.
Store in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days or use immediately in a recipe.