It’s amazing how a simple, plain bulb, one that can make you cry as you first cut into, can magically be transformed into a mouth watering, utterly unctuous, full of sweetness, accompaniment to burgers, mashed potatoes and salads.
All you need for perfect caramelized onions are regular old cooking onions, some oil or margarine and about half an hour.
1. CHOOSING ONIONS:
Make sure that the onions you purchase are heavy for their size with dry papery skins that are free from blemishes or any signs of moisture. Try to avoid onions that seem to have soft spots on them. If you’re buying a lot of onions at a time, store them in a cool, dry place for up to about 3 months. Any hint of moisture will hasten spoilage in onions.
2. PREPPING THE ONIONS:
You’re going to need about 3 large onions. First, with a sharp chef’s knife, cut a small piece off of the bottom of one onion so that it can rest flat on your cutting board. Repeat with the other two onions. Peel away the dry papery skin.
With the onion laying flat on your cutting board, slice thinly into rounds. Some people like to chop their onions into a coarse dice, but I much prefer the way the long rounds look.
4. ONIONS MAKE YOU CRY:
There are many, many theories about how to avoid your eyes tearing up while you’re cutting onions. Some ludicrous (have you heard the one about holding a lit match in your mouth, a fire hazard to say the least), and some more common sense than anything else. Basically, the problem stems (no pun intended!!) from the root and shoot of the onion which contain enzymes that are released into the air once the onion is cut into. These enzymes release a sulfuric acid which is what irritates the eyes.
It’s also worthy to note that this can be somewhat more of a problem right now since onions harvested in the cooler months are more potent and tart.
There is one theory that you should wash the peeled onion before cutting it. This may be true but the onion may absorb too much water, lengthening the caramelizing process, so this is one that you should avoid. Instead of submerging the onions in water, place them in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for about 30 minutes before you intend to slice them.
The most beneficial tip, however, is to use a very sharp knife. The sharper the knife, the less damage there is to the cell walls, preventing the gases from being released.
It can also be helpful to keep the exposed side of the onion facing the other way so it’s farther away from your face and from your nose.
As a last resort, you can always turn on the vent hood of your stove, which will pull the noxious fumes away from you.
5. COOKING: Once you have the onions all sliced, heat about 3 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. If you’re not having a meat meal, some of this can be butter, for flavour. Add the onions; cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 30 to 35 minutes or until deeply coloured. Don’t be tempted to increase the heat. You want a nice, slow heat so that the nascent sugars in the onions naturally release- a time consuming process. If you increase the heat, you run the risk of burning the onions. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper before esrving..
6. OPTIONS: Some cooks also add some brown sugar to help the caramelization process. You can certainly do this as well; it will simply deepen the sweetness of the final product. Another great tip to deepen the already wonderful flavour of caramelized onions is to add a dash of a sweet Balsamic vinegar halfway through the caramelization process.
7. USES: You can use caramelized onions in so many different ways!! We used them here to top wonderfully fluffy mashed potatoes, but they’re also delicious on top of a twice baked potato, in quiche, in salads, on top of a hamburger or mixed in with pasta. The choice is yours!!