Kitchen Tips: How to make (and freeze!) caramelized onions

By | July 22, 2014

caramelized-onions-1.jpg

These days, it takes a lot of advance planning to make dinner. The first step is putting away yesterday’s clean dishes. The second step is washing the dirty dishes that are still in the sink, even though I thought I washed them last night when I should have gone to sleep already. Eventually I might get around to step 3, which is dicing and sauteing an onion…right, so you see how it takes forever to produce an actual meal. Sometimes we eat really late, and sometimes we eat really really late.

If I can sidestep even one thing in the dinner-making process, it makes my day that much simpler. And this is why I love caramelized onions so much: because (1) you can make them ahead and freeze them in small portions, so you get a head start on any dish that starts with a sauteed onion (or that features them), and (2) they are so.full.of.flavor. If you’ve never tried caramelized onions, you’ll probably be shocked that ordinary onions can have such a depth of flavor. I feel like I’ve said that before, but it’s so true.

onion collage w numbers

A few pointers, based on my personal onion experiences:

  • Material: Stainless steel pots work. Cheap-o pots do not.
  • Oil: Olive oil works. Canola oil does not.
  • Onion-to-oil ratio: Use ½ Tbsp oil per onion.
  • Stirring frequency: You want them to cook undisturbed so those brown bits start collecting at the bottom of the pan, but not so long that they burn. For most of the cooking process, one stir every 10 minutes is just right; at the end, check them more often to avoid burning.
  • Covering the pot: I have successfully caramelized onions in both covered and uncovered pots, but my favorite method is to cover the pot for the first 10 minutes and then leave it uncovered after that.

Okay, you convinced me. I caramelized some onions, now what do I do with them?

Caramelized onions just not your thing? That’s okay, I still like you. Try these instead:


8 Comments

Yiska Ben Avraham on July 22, 2014 at 11:47 pm.

That’s so cool :)

Reply

judy from Israel on July 23, 2014 at 8:29 am.

I love caramelized onions!

You explain it very clearly and make it look easy….can’t wait to try them.

Reply

Elly on July 23, 2014 at 11:11 am.

Can you give any weight for the 8 onions? I know by experience that onions vary wildly in size !

Cheers,
Elly (Amsterdam)

Reply

Tali Simon on July 23, 2014 at 10:54 pm.

I’m hesitant to give precise weights because there’s definitely some leeway here (after all, I’ve caramelized onions countless times without ever weighing them to make sure I had a certain amount in the pot). Eight medium-sized onions, more or less, should work just fine — so if you have two small ones, count them as one onion, and if you have a really huge one, go ahead and count it as two.

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Fern on August 12, 2014 at 4:26 pm.

As a follow up to your instructions, I specifically tried this using canola oil. The batch done in the microwave browned nicely. The batch on the stove top took a very long time before browning but I am not sure if I had the heat turned down too low. In any case, both oils work well but if making fried onions for chopped liver, olive oil wins hands down.

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Tali Simon on August 12, 2014 at 11:52 pm.

Very interesting! Thanks for reporting on the experiment. :)

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Yiska Ben Avraham on October 6, 2014 at 7:42 pm.

What about dark teflon (???) covered pots? That’s what I have for fleishig. Is that the kind you said doesn’t work? (At this point I’d like to know in advance so I can skip it rather than waste time on a flop I could have avoided :)) Todah!

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Tali Simon on October 6, 2014 at 9:15 pm.

Right, teflon and other nonstick pans won’t work here. You want some of the onion to stick to the pot as it cooks, since those brown bits are where the flavor builds up. When you scrape them up and mix them back into the onions, the flavor gets distributed. A nonstick pan really works against you in this case. But if you’re interested in doing onion prep in advance, you should be able to freeze sauteed onions, too. (Make sure not to overcrowd the pan.)

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