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09/10/2012

~ To Sweeten Your Life: Caramelize Some Onions ~

6a0120a8551282970b017744aa3256970dLast night we had a relaxing dinner at a local steakhouse.  Joe loved his prime rib and my porterhouse steak was cooked to perfection, just the way I ordered it:  rare.  It was moist and juicy, it cut like butter, and, I ate every last bite.  I was happy to pay the extra charge to have it topped with the optional caramelized onions, and, don't get me wrong, I ate all of them too, except:  they weren't really caramelized, they were just medium-browned.  As I was cleaning my plate and explaining this culinary "pet peeve" to Joe, he simply said, "have another glass of wine and write a blog post about it in the morning".  Secretly, I believe the spouses of all food bloggers enjoy being able to tell us, when we are disgruntled, to "take it out on the blog".

PICT0042I am a professed onion lover.  I like all kinds, I like them served every way possible, and, I forgave them a long time ago for making me cry.  I like them raw or pickled in salads and on sandwiches... simmered in stocks, soups, and stews... roasted whole or chopped and baked in casseroles, and, depending on the culinary application... sauted until soft, lightly-browned, browned or caramelized.  It is the difference between browned and caramelized that is the point of this post, and, if you are a chef:  you should know there is a very big difference.

IMG_0904If you are home cook, here's some basic information on caramelization (bypassing all scientific mumbo jumbo):  Onions contain a lot of sugar and slowly cooking them on the stovetop draws out their natural sweetness.  The longer and slower they cook, the sweeter they get. When lightly-browned or browned, they begin to take on a pleasant, nutty taste.  When caramelized (browned to a deep amber color), they get sweet.  Caramelizing onions could not be easier, but:

It can't be done in 15-20 minutes. You'll need to allow a good 35-45 minutes (depending upon how many you are making, how you regulate the heat on your stove, and, on any given day, how long you decide to cook them). So, pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cocktail, put on some music or a movie on the kitchen TV, relax, stand by your stove and enjoy the experience.

Technically, any onion can be caramelized, but I personally think that sweet onions work best, with yellow onions being my second choice, and, I don't recommend caramelizing red onions at all.  My three favorites are:  Vidalia (from Georgia), Walla Walla (from Washington), and, Maui (from Hawaii).  Also on my list of favorites are Texas Sweet (from Texas) and NuMex (from New Mexico).  Before getting started, here are two important tips:

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a9e51cd970d-800wi

1)  To insure even cooking, the onions must be sliced or diced to a consistent size.

2)  Because the onions will loose most of their volume as they slowly caramelize, start out with a lot more than you think you will need.

For onion slicing instructions, read: ~ How to: Select, Slice, Mince, Dice & Chop Onions ~, which can be found in Category 15!

IMG_08051 1/2 pounds (after peeling) 1/4"-thick "half-ring-shaped" slices of yellow or sweet onion (6 cups) 

3  tablespoons olive oil

3  tablespoons butter

1/2  teaspoon sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2-4  tablespoons white wine, for deglazing pan (stock or water may be substituted)

IMG_0831 IMG_0820~ Step 1. Over low heat, in skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil.  Add the onions to the skillet.  Season with the sugar and salt.  Using a large slotted spoon or spatula, toss until the onions are evenly coated in the oil/butter mixture.

IMG_0837~ Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally.  After 10 minutes, the onions will have lost a lot of their volume and will be limp and steamed through. There won't be any browning on them just yet.

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Step 3.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. It's now that you are going to start to see what I refer to as light browning.

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~ Step 4.  Continue to cook, stirring more frequently, another 10 minutes. Now, the onions are nicely browned and they are truly beginning to caramelize.

Note:  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions will require almost constant stirring, and, they can and will go from browned to burned quickly.

IMG_0879~ Step 5.  Today, my onions cooked for another 10 minutes, with me stirring constantly, before I added the wine and deglazed the pan, or: for a total of 40 minutes.  Deglazing the pan is an important step that takes caramelized onions from ordinary to great. These are some mighty-fine looking caramelized onions (if I do say so myself):

IMG_0889To Sweeten Your Life:  Caramelize Some Onions:  Recipe yields instructions for properly caramelizing onions and yields one cup of caramelized onions.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, or a 12" skillet; large slotted spoon or spatula

PICT0014Cook's Note:  For my all-time favorite recipe for red onions, read: ~ Mel's Ultimate Sandwich Topper:  Pickled Onions ~ in Categories 2, 4, 8 or 20.  Full of crunch, sweet and savory, I keep these on hand all year long! 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

Comments

Melanie, this is the best blog by far on the internet! Your recipes are so well written and fool-proof and one simply can not fail! The photography is amazing! When you look at any picture, you want to make that dish, just because it looks so good! Thank you for writing a quality blog that makes it easy for the average person to make a fabulous meal for their family.

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