By Tali Simon | July 22, 2014
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.
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?
- french onion quiche
- french onion soup
- pizza topping/calzone filling/quesadilla filling, etc.
- latke topping
- mix them into rice
- make kugel
- use them in any recipe that calls for sauteed onions!
Caramelized onions just not your thing? That’s okay, I still like you. Try these instead:
- One year ago: Caprese quiche
- Two years ago: Greek tabbouleh salad
- Three years ago: Double-decker brownie/blondies
Yield: 15 tablespoons (just shy of 1 cup)
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 8 medium onions, diced
- 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
- Optional: 1-2 bay leaves, pinch of salt, pinch of black pepper, pinch of granulated sugar, splash of balsamic vinegar or wine (see directions)
1. Heat the olive oil in a large stainless steel pot. Add the onions and garlic and stir to coat them in the oil. Cover the pot and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. This softens the onions; now it’s time to brown them. If you like, you can add bay leaves and/or a pinch each of salt, pepper, and sugar at this point. You can do some of those, all of them, or none of them, depending on your mood. You can’t go wrong.
2. Remove the lid and stir, leaving the onions to cook undisturbed for another 10 minutes before stirring again. Repeat several more times. After a few rounds, you’ll start seeing brown bits at the bottom of the pot. This is where the flavor is building up, so scrape them back into the onions when you stir. Turn off the heat when the onions have reduced significantly and turned a deep brown (it’s a good idea to check them more often once they really brown so you can catch them before they burn). If you like, when the onions are done you can deglaze the pot with a small splash of balsamic vinegar or wine. Again, not essential — either way will be great.
Timing: In general, the longer you let the onions cook, the better the flavor will be. I’ve made caramelized onions that took 60 minutes, 75 minutes, 90 minutes, even an hour and 45. It may vary from batch to batch.
Freezing: Fill an ice cube tray with the caramelized onions and freeze until firm. To release the onion cubes, run the back of the tray under water (it doesn’t need to be hot; as long as the water is warmer than the frozen tray, it will be hot enough). You should be able to poke the cubes out easily. Assume 1 raw onion = 2½ Tbsp caramelized onions. My tray makes 1-Tbsp cubes, so I use 2-3 cubes per onion depending on the recipe.