Caramelizing onions is simply giving long (one hour) cooked onions a deep brown color; and bringing out the sweetness of the onion itself. Using medium and low heat temperatures ensures that the onions will attain a brown coloring from the caramelizing of their natural sugar. Higher heat temperatures will brown the onions, perhaps even burn them; however they may remain bitter from not releasing and utilizing the sugar. They can be used as an added ingredient (for example: quiche, frittata, macaroni and cheese) or accompaniment for meat, pork, poultry or seafood; and are the main ingredient for French Onion Soup.
There is no one particular type of onion that should be used when caramelizing; white, yellow, red; even sweeter onions such as Vidalia and Spanish work just fine. Remember, we're letting the natural sugar of the onion do most of our work for us, so the sweeter the onion, the richer the caramelizing will be. Also, while I prefer simply to use olive oil for the initial cooking process, some like to use butter, or a combination of oil and butter. I don't personally like to add a dairy product into my caramelizing process; I don't believe it truly adds anything, but a greasy texture to it. I've seen some recipes add brown sugar; I'm not sure why since brown sugar is caramelized sugar, and that's what we're trying to achieve with the onion's own sugar. Confusing, isn't it? I do, however, add a little balsamic vinegar for an extra richness, and it enhances the aroma of the onions. Play around with the techniques and see what suits your tastes the best.
3 Tbsp olive oil
5 large onions, peeled and julienned
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Slice the top and root off the onions. Cut the onions in half from top to bottom; remove peels and discard. Place half of an onion, flat side down, on a clean, flat cutting surface. Angle the knife towards the center to make ¼ inch slices from stem to root end. This method of slicing onions is called “Frenched onions”, French-cut, or Julienned.
Heat oil on medium heat in a large skillet; spread onions in skillet and sprinkle salt over them.
Cook the onions until soft and translucent (10 minutes); stirring occasionally.
Reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for 40 minutes; stir after 20 minutes only. This will make the onions sweat, drawing out the natural sugars that will coat the onion pieces and cause them to turn brown as the sugar itself begins to cook. Do not keep removing the lid to check on the onions, or stir them; the heat will lower and you'll lose the accumulated moisture. After 40 minutes, mix in the vinegar, cover and cook additional 10 minutes.
Makes 2 cups.
Note: if you want the onions to be darker colored than what is in my photo, let them cook down longer on the low heat. For us, after one hour, the intoxicating scent throughout the home is just too much to bear, so we gobble them up. Enjoy!
March 12, 2013