What's the big deal about caramelizing onions?
They will take your dinner from good to great with very little effort!
They can be spread on a slice of baguette for a quick appetizer, mixed into sour cream and mayonnaise and made into a dip, piled on a burger or sandwich, used in a stir-fry, added to a bowl of pasta, a casserole, or a braised dish or made into a soup – think French Onion Soup.
All you need is a little butter or olive oil, a pan and some time.
What kind of onions can you caramelize? Any onion, white, yellow, Vidalia, red, however the red onions are much darker in color and really look great on pizza and salads.
How many can you caramelize at one time? 4 or 5 depending on the size of your pan. Cook extras because they last in the refrigerator a week and they freeze very well, and they heat up easily and are so versatile.
What kind of pan should you use? A cast iron skillet, stainless steel skillet, or a Dutch oven is best. Try not to use a nonstick skillet because the fond won't develop on the pan as easily and that is key to the flavor.
There are many (at least 6) ways of caramelizing onions, but the best way is the grab your biggest pan, set a burner to medium heat, and let them cook slowly. You don't have to stand at the stove and babysit them. Just check and stir every 5-10 minutes and stir in any fond in the pan into the onions. Keep the fire low or they will burn. When they are dark enough in color and taste fabulous, they're done! It can take 45 minutes to an hour. Don't rush them.
Here is the basic recipe....
2 to 4 large onions
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, olive oil, or a mix
1/4 cup white or red wine, vegetable or chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, or water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Thinly slice the onions.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat, or heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering.
Add all the onions to the skillet and stir them gently to coat with the fat.
Cook the onions, checking on them every 5-10 minutes. Stir the onions and scrape up any fond that forms on the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon. Exact cooking times will vary with the number of onions you're cooking, their liquid and sugar content, and their age.
At around 10 minutes: onions will start to soften and turn translucent in spots. They will release a lot of liquid into the pan.
At around 20 minutes: onions will be very soft and starting to break down. Some onions will start to show spots of caramelization and you may see some fond starting to build up in the pan. They will also start to smell caramelized. Adjust the heat if the onions seem to be cooking too quickly or you notice any burnt spots.
At around 30 minutes: onions should be light blonde in color and starting to become jammy. More fond is starting to build up, but it should still be fairly easy to scrape it up with the evaporating liquid from the onions.
At around 40 minutes: onions are golden and starting to smell very caramelized. Taste one — if you like the way they taste, you can stop now! For even deeper caramelized flavor, continue cooking.
Deglaze the pan and salt the onions. When your onions have finished cooking, pour in 1/4 cup wine, broth, balsamic vinegar, or water. As the liquid bubbles, scrape up the fond and stir it into the onions. Use additional liquid as necessary to scrape up all the fond. Season with approximately 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Ok, so now what? Well, you could just leave them in the pot and add some broth and have French Onion Soup. Here is the recipe from my friend, Shaye Elliott of The Elliott Homestead blog. My husband Roger said it is the best he has ever eaten....
French Onion Soup
Adapted from The Elliott Homestead
5 red onions - about 3 pounds
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh
2 bay leaves
8 cups of chicken stock or beef stock or a combination of both
1/8 cup high-quality balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Crusty bread of choice
3 tablespoons of grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese per serving
Peel and slice the onions in half. Then, cut into thin strips.
Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add in the sliced onions and the thyme. Caramelize the onions.
Once the onions are nice and sticky, add in the bay leaves, and stock. Stir and bring to a simmer. Then, drizzle in the balsamic vinegar.
Cover and allow the soup to simmer for twenty or so minutes. Now taste. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
Once the soup has simmered and is spiced to your liking, gently scoop a serving into an oven-safe dish(es).
Top each ramekin with a piece of crusty bread.
Top each serving with a few tablespoons of grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese.
Place all the ramekins on a baking sheet and put into a 450 degree oven for about 5-10 minutes or until the bread is golden and the cheese has melted.
Today, we are making.....
Caramelized Onion and Phyllo Tart
Serves 12 as an appetizer
2 cups caramelized onions (this will take about 4-5 onions)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley leaves, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves, divided
1/3 cup olive oil
10 14x18-inch) phyllo sheets (about 8 ounces), defrosted if frozen
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (5.2-ounce) box garlic and herb Boursin cheese
2 cups arugula
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Line a standard 18x13-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
Place the onions, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and 1 teaspoon of the thyme in a medium bowl and mix to combine; set aside. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of parsley and 1/2 teaspoon of thyme to the olive oil and stir to combine; set aside.
Lay 1 sheet of phyllo on the prepared baking sheet. Keep the remaining phyllo covered with plastic wrap, wax paper, or a damp kitchen towel. Brush the phyllo with a thin layer of the herb oil. Repeat with the layers of phyllo, brushing each layer with oil, until all the phyllo is used up, making sure to brush the top layer of phyllo with the oil.
Season the surface of the phyllo with salt and pepper. Carefully roll about 3/4-inch of each side in on itself toward the center to form the outer rim of the flatbread. Spread the onions evenly over the phyllo. Crumble the Boursin evenly over the onions.
Bake until the edges are golden-brown and crisp, about 30 minutes. Transfer the tart to a cutting board.
Place the arugula and lemon juice in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, and toss gently with your hands to combine. Sprinkle the tart evenly with the dressed arugula, cut into 12 pieces, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat in a 300°F oven until warmed through, 10 to 12 minutes.