The first thing you need to know is it takes some time to truly caramelize onions. There are a few methods to more quickly make some faux-caramelized onions, but those tend to rely on adding sugars that caramelize around the onions rather than the sugars in the onions themselves. It is definitely worth the wait.
Caramelized onions have a rich sweetness that adds much more complexity to the final dish in which they’re used. They also smell delicious while cooking, so that’s an added bonus. You can use any kind of onion to caramelize, though it is a little more difficult to tell when red onions are finished because of their inherent color.
You can substitute caramelized onions in many dishes that call for onions. They’re also amazing as toppings for a whole ton of recipes – pizza, burgers, steak, sandwiches, patty melts. There is a delicious homemade white pizza that I love to make where I caramelize onions to go with chicken, cream sauce, and cheese. I will have to add that recipe to my plans…
Steps for Caramelizing
It is easy to caramelize, you just need to take it low and slow. Because there are natural sugars in the onion, if you cook them on too high a heat they will burn before caramelizing. I had my stove squarely in between the low and medium settings. Basically, fat plus onions plus medium-low heat plus time is the recipe to caramelize onions.
- Cut and prepare the onions
- Add fats on medium-low heat in a large frying pan
- Add onions to the pan
- Cook and stir every few minutes until caramelized
A compiled image below shows the onions in the pan while cooking about every ten minutes, so you know generally what to expect.
General Onion Tips
Picking onions at the store or market – Pick the onion up and make sure it doesn’t have any soft spots. While you’re holding it you can take a whiff – if you get a strong onion smell, then put it back because it is already on its way out. Sprouting onions and ones with bad blemishes on the outside should be avoided.
Storing onions – Keep onions in a cool, dry, well-ventilated space, out of direct sunlight. Uncut onions do not need to be refrigerated. They can last 1 to 2 months when stored properly. If you notice any of the issues from the picking onions section in your stored onions then either use it immediately or put it in the compost depending on how far gone it is.
Remove the onion smell from your hands – Washing your hands with salt, or washing them while rubbing a stainless steel spoon, fork, or knife will help remove the smell. The metal attracts the sulfur compounds that make your hands smell. There are also special metal ‘soap’ bars that you can get to help rinse the smell away. After washing with salt or stainless steel, use some soap to wash and you’ll be good to go.
Curb the watering eyes – I’m not crying, I’ve just been cutting onions. Compounds released when cutting can irritate the eyes. Two methods work really well – #1 – cutting the onions under your stove vent with the fan running #2 – freeze the onions for 10 to 15 minutes before removing them from the freezer and cutting. So try one or both methods next time. Also, try wearing contacts. Haha. I wear contacts and they seem to make a barrier to the irritating chemicals. I can definitely notice a difference when I don’t have them in.
Recipes To Caramelize Onions
- White Pizza
- French Onion Soup
- Grilled Steak
- Homemade Hamburgers
- Patty Melt
- Onion Dip
In the photo of the appetizer above, I just grabbed some crackers and then topped them with goat cheese, caramelized onions, and parsley. An easy, simple snack or appetizer that looks high-end. All because I took the time to caramelize the onions.
How to Caramelize OnionsCourse: SidesDifficulty: Easy
Caramelize onions to deepen their flavor and bring out their natural sugars for a savory-sweet addition to tons of recipes.
4 large onions
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Slice the ends off the onions
- Place the onion on one of the cut ends, cut it in half, and then remove the peel
- Place the halves on the newly flat side and then slice into long strands between 1/8th and 1/4 inch thick
- Melt the butter in a large frying pan on medium-low heat
- Add the olive oil and the onions to the pan, stirring to coat the onion slices
- Cook the onions while stirring every 3 to 5 minutes until fragrant, brown, and caramelized – 50 to 60 minutes
- Sticky stuff stuck to the pan after cooking? You can deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup broth or water to pick that deliciousness up and mix it back into the onions