The Confident Kitchen Series
Well, it was a sad day in the UrbnSpice kitchen when I realized I had developed a sensitivity to onions – not eating them, thank goodness – only for cutting and chopping them! There was a time when I wore contact lenses for years and years and didn’t have to give cutting onions a second thought. I would smugly chuckle at my teary-eyed colleagues as they prepared their daily mise-en-place. After having laser eye surgery, I now stand before you, adorned in goggles – teary eyed from all the cutting and slicing and dicing. However, this has not stopped me from one of the most important flavour booster processes in the world of cooking – caramelizing onions. So, in this post, I will share with you How to Caramelize Onions.
The result of caramelizing onions is so worth the time it takes to make them – the tears are an added bonus – or so I am told. It takes very little effort to make them – it is a great technique for the novice or seasoned cooks. For those cooks who ‘love to hover’ over their speciality dishes, making caramelized onions is intensely gratifying.
The versatility of caramelized onions or shallots alone makes it one of the best flavour enhancers to any dish. It is definitely worth your time to make enough to have on hand for other recipes and uses. Take a lamb burger to epic heights with the addition of caramelized onions. French Onion Soup would not be French Onion Soup without this important ingredient in the process. A bowl of plain onion soup just doesn’t have the same appeal.
Did you know that you can also freeze prepared caramelized onions easily? I put the caramelized onions in sectioned silicone trays that hold 2 tablespoon portion or 1/4 cup portions, depending on what I am going to use them for. Then you have them ready instantly for hamburger topping, or for when you crave the almost famous Wats-On Sandwich or folding into a quiche custard mixture.
I use huge quantities of caramelized onion in my kitchen. I make pans and pans of caramelized onion for the most popular of the UrbnSpice savoury Confitures – Caramelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Confiture. When you consider that the yield achieved from 100% raw onion to caramelized onion is approximately 20%, it takes a great deal of sliced onion to make just one small batch of this confiture. But, again, so worth the effort.
In this post, I am going to show you through a series of photographs, the step-by-step process that I take when I caramelize onions. Once you know how to caramelize onions, there are hundreds of ways of using them, and I am going to give you lots of ideas. To summarize, a recipe for Caramelized Onion Dip. Once you make this delicious dip, you will never buy the store-bought version again.
Here is my step-by-step process: How to Caramelize Onions
Step One: Slicing the Onions – This is the toughest part of the whole process. If you have tips on how to be tear-free – do share! Slice the onions very thinly. I find this is easiest with the use of a food processor and slicing blade (if your blade is adjustable, set it to the thinnest setting). Quarter the onions and push them through the food processor tube. Once you have a large bowl full of sliced onions, drizzle a tablespoon of good olive oil or other neutral vegetable oil in the bottom of a large fry pan over low to medium heat. Pile the sliced onions into the frying pan (I usually have a heaping pile of sliced onions in my fry pan when I start).
Step Two: Sweating the Onions – you will notice quite a bit of water accumulating in the bottom of the pan as you start the onion sweating process. When you consider that an onion is 89-91% water, the amount of onions that you start with is significantly reduced as you progress through the steps. The water gradually evaporates, dries up and then caramelization will begin – then, and only then. If you see that the mixture becomes a little too dry at this point, add a touch more olive oil to the pan and toss the onions well to coat with the oil. Patience is definitely required and rewarded so do not rush this process.
Step Three: The Caramelization Process begins. Once the excess water has evaporated, you will start to see some colour starting as you turn the onions. There is approximately 9% soluble sugars in onions and this is what supports the caramelization process. The addition of a sprinkle of granulated sugar at this point is beneficial (about one tablespoon), although optional to help in the caramelization process of the onions. Purists say not to add salt, but I always add a little – start with one teaspoon kosher salt. You can adjust the seasoning to your taste at the end. It is a good strategy to flatten the onions with the back of a spatula every time you turn them in the pan so that more surface area is in contact with the onions.
Doesn’t it make you want to try making caramelized onions now that you see how easy it is? Here are just a few examples of how I use caramelized onions:
- Simple Flatbread or pizza topping: caramelized onion, cooked chicken breast (smoked, if you can find it), sliced pear, and provolone cheese
- Lamb burgers: caramelized onion, a little feta cheese, fresh tomato and lettuce – epic
- The almost famous “Wats-On Chicken Sandwich” in which a layer of the caramelized onion is crucial. The layers of this beautiful sandwich are as follows: caramelized onion, grilled chicken, provolone cheese, fresh basil leaves, tomato slices, garlic aïoli (or the caramelized onion dip from the recipe below) on a buttered, toasted baguette. So, so good!
- And many, many more uses
- A French Onion Dip (recipe follows)
So, now – how about using your new skill to make this recipe for Caramelized Onion Dip? Preparation is about one minute. Get the chips ready and dig in!
CARAMELIZED ONION DIP
- 1 cup of prepared caramelized onion
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 teaspoon celery salt
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Sea salt, to taste
- Mix all of the above ingredients together.
- Season to taste.
- Enjoy with crudités, crostini, of course, chips. (or use it on the Wats-On Sandwich)
I like salty, creamy foods. I could sit down with a bag of chips and French onion dip and go to town!
That would be on my last-supper list.
Many have tried. Many have failed. Many have just plain given up on the process of caramelizing onions. My sister once confessed to me, “They burn every time I try!” So, promise me this! This is one task that you need to allow yourself plenty of time. It takes approximately 45 minutes over low to medium heat to make a perfect pan of caramelized onion.
So – pour yourself a glass of Chardonnay, take a deep breath, and slow down a bit. Enjoy the process! And let me know if you do. It is a great technique to master in the kitchen and I want you to achieve success with this easy step-by-step process in How To Caramelize Onions. Cheers!
Please CLICK the link above to access my UrbnSpice LEARNING TIPS, which are listed alphabetically on the Learning Tips blog post under the following subheadings:
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Tweaking – A Study in Flavour Amendment
Urb’n’Spice Confitures, Chutneys and Compotes
Relevant Onion Resources:
A time Lapse portraying Caramelizing Onions
Using a Slower Cooker to Caramelize Onions
Happy Caramelizing, everyone!
The UrbnSpice Chef
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