Casual Recipe for Caramelized Onions

by Kay Baumhefner

So You Can Go for the Pot of Gold —

“Onions in Butter”. That’s what I almost called my cooking school. Because the seductively comforting aroma that warms the air as they gently transition from assaulting crisp sharpness into melting tender sweetness fills us with the essence of what it means to come home. As it was, I obviously decided to make the point with “Come Home to Cooking”, but that’s another story. This one is about how to make that magical transformation happen with onions in particular. And then all the heavenly things you can do with the results.

Like using them to establish a soup, sauce or meaty braise base. For stirring, folding, or layering into all kinds of vegetable, egg, whole grain, pasta, rice or bean dishes. To slather on croutes, crackers, cheese, toast, flatbreads or sandwiches. For garnishing roast chicken, grilled fish or seared steak. To eat by the spoonful straight out of the pot. You name it. Once you have a stash of caramelized onions to draw from, you’ll be all set to instantly turn everyday foods into feast-worthy fare. Here’s how to create your own pot of gold. It’s definitely a simple yet slow cooking process. So why not relax and enjoy every moment of it?

Casual Recipe for Caramelized Onions

NOTE: The whole process takes about 4-6 hours, but with very little tending once the onions are in the pot.

You’ll Need

  • olive oil
  • unsalted butter
  • onions
  • bay leaf
  • thyme (optional)
  • garlic (optional)
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • chicken stock [or water]

And maybe …

  • dry white wine and/or balsamic vinegar
  • other herbs and/or spices
  • dried fruit

To Make …

  1. In a large heavy skillet or pot over medium heat, melt equal parts oil and butter together.
  2. Stir in lots of sliced onions to evenly coat; add the bay leaf and optional thyme [plus any other optional herbs and/or spices].
  3. Cover and reduce the heat to low.
  4. Let the onions cook, stirring periodically, until completely melting tender [several hours].
  5. Uncover, raise the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring periodically, until a deep golden color [another half hour].
  6. Remove and discard the herbs, add salt to taste, raise the heat to medium, and continue to cook, stirring more frequently to prevent scorching, until caramelized into a deep golden brown [yet another half hour].
  7. Stir in the pepper and optional garlic, either pressed or pounded, to briefly cook and coat.
  8. Then stir in an optional tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar, perhaps up to a cup of wine, and then a cup or more of stock (or water), reducing each of the liquids to a syrupy consistency before adding the next one. Add as much stock (or water) as needed to scrape up and incorporate every bit of caramel from the bottom of the pan.
  9. Stir in any optional dried fruit, bring just to the boil, cover and reduce the heat to simmer gently until all the liquid has been absorbed by the onions [a final 30-60 minutes]. Uncover to reduce more as needed.
  10. Taste carefully for seasoning.
  11. Use still warm or cool to store in the fridge or freezer.

And play with

Family Favorites: French Onion Soup, of course. Just add more stock and you’ve essentially got it made. Since a gratineed bread and cheese topping seals the deal on that legendary match, we like to run with the concept. It’s just as easy to turn caramelized onions into a go-to filling for toasted cheese sandwiches of all kinds and combinations, and we often substitute them for tomato sauce on homemade pizzas. Don’t forget a layer inside your stuffed baked potatoes or roasted peppers. And then you can always turn down the heat by folding them with currants and pine nuts into the best chicken salad for putting in a sandwich or resting on a dressed bed of arugula or spinach. We also love them spread on croutes to accompany an autumnal green salad studded with apple, blue cheese and walnuts. The list goes on forever.

Dried Fruit Options: Currants. I love currants. Golden raisins, dried figs, cherries or cranberries also make natural companions here. You can plump them in brandy for an added touch before adding to the pot. You could also use a generous amount of all these fruits, add some candied orange peel and crystallized ginger, and turn this into a caramelized onion compote, jam or chutney to spread on toast, embellish pork chops, or serve with your Thanksgiving turkey instead of cranberry sauce.

So many good things to look forward to. I’m sure you’ll come up with plenty more.

Bon Appetit!  — Kay

Onions caramelizing phase 1.
Onions caramelizing phase 2.
Onions caramelizing phase 3.
Onions caramelizing phase 4.
Onions caramelizing phase 5.

Can you smell it? Wait ’til you taste it!

Post originally published Sept. 30, 2015 on Come Home to Cooking.

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