Published March 28, 2012
Caramelizing is essentially the act of giving an onion a delicious makeover. While raw onions are crunchy with a strong, pungent flavor, caramelized onions are soft, sweet and subtle. Luckily, this gourmet touch only requires a minimal amount of work. Here is a guide to cooking the perfect caramelized onions:
You only need the most basic tools to caramelize an onion. A sharp knife and cutting board are essential for peeling and slicing the onion. To get ready for cooking, prepare a heavy-bottomed pan and some sort of stirring tool, like a spatula, tongs or wooden spoon.
First and foremost, you will need an onion. Any kind of onion can be caramelized, so feel free to choose your preferred type. A few popular options include yellow, white or Spanish onions. Other than an onion, the only required ingredients are butter or cooking oil and salt. How much of each ingredient depends on your preferences, but make sure to use enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Optional pepper and sugar can add extra flavor. You may even want to try experimenting with spices like cinnamon or cloves.
Cut the tops and bottoms off of the onion. Balance the onion on its flat surface, then cut it in half so that you get two domes. Lay one half on the cutting board, with the flat side facing down. Slice from the top to bottom (the parts you cut off earlier), making half rings at whatever thickness you prefer. Repeat with the second half. Smaller slices cook faster, but thicker slices offer the bigger bite.
Place your heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the butter or oil and give it some time to heat. Once the oil starts to simmer, add your onions. Try not to overfill the pan too much, but do not worry if you have a lot of onion for a little pan. The slices will cook down and shrink significantly. Stir the onions to coat them with oil, then throw in a pinch of salt. You can also add pepper and a tiny bit of sugar now, if you wish. Keep stirring the onions. A few slices may start to turn brown and stick to the bottom of the pan. This is normal. Just make sure to stir the stuck onions before they start to burn. If they are turning too brown, you can add a little bit of water, wine or broth to the pan, then stir vigorously. This process is called de-glazing, in which added moisture keeps the onions from drying out. Let your onions cook for a long time, stirring occasionally. Cooking time will range anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your slices, how many onions you have and your preferred consistency.
Caramelized onions can add great flavor and texture to a huge variety of meals. You can throw them on top of a burger patty to make an everyday meal more special. For something simpler, pop a small scoop of onions and goat cheese onto a thin slice of baguette. You can add caramelized onions to pasta, mashed potatoes or pizza. The only limit is your culinary imagination.