Ode to Onions, Part 2

Infrared Thermometer

Thanks to Deb and Lois for requesting the caramelized Onion procedure and French Onion Soup recipe. Both are included below with pictures at the bottom of the post. Hover your mouse over each picture to see elapsed time.

Yellow onions are an all-purpose cooking onion and the best choice for caramelizing (reds are great for grilling, broiling or roasting; whites in raw applications to showcase their crisp fresh flavor).  Other recipes estimate the caramelizing process to range from 25 minutes to an hour, most of which involves patiently watching the onions and resisting the temptation to stir them.  I’ve minimized the baby sitting by covering the pan at the beginning of the process. This traps the heat and breaks down the onions faster, and captures the steam to provide needed water. I also watch the temperature closely. Notice the  infrared thermometer registering about 330 degrees Fahrenheit, in the range of medium heat (up to 350 deg.). Also notice the temperature dial on the stove set to ‘2’ (below, right). Imagine how hot it would be on ‘5’, which most people assume to be the indicator of medium heat.

Range Burner Dial

Caramelized Onions

1 pound yellow onions

2 Tablespoons pure olive oil

2 Tablespoons salted butter

¼ cup wine or vinegar (optional)

Step 1: Peel and halve the onion lengthwise then slice in about ¼” wide slices. Heat a heavy skillet to medium and when hot add oil and butter. Add onions to pan, stir to coat and spread them out evenly. Cover the pan for 10 minutes, stirring at the 5 minute mark, and again when the lid is removed. If you don’t have a thermometer you will need to peek occasionally to check for burning, and if so just lower the heat a little. It may just take a little longer.

Step 2: As the onion gives up its sugar it will begin to brown. Stir every 4 minutes or sooner just to prevent burning, for about 15 minutes or until you get the depth of color you are looking for. Here’s where patience comes in. The longer the onions stay in place the quicker they will brown, which should be about 25 minutes from start to finish.  Add a little salt to taste. Depending on how you plan to use the onions you can add a seasoning such as vinegar, wine, Worcestershire Sauce or fresh herbs within the last few minutes of browning.

Tips for success: Use a large pan so you don’t have to pile the onions on top of each other. We want them to be in contact with the hot pan so they will brown, otherwise you’ll be stirring a lot. A heavy pan reduces the chance of burning too quickly. A glass lid for the pan is recommended to let you see what’s going on.

French Onion Soup

Serves: about 6 (6 oz. servings)

Caramelized Onion Recipe (above)

1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce

1 Qt. Beef Broth *

6 slices Provolone cheese

18 Crostinis or garlic bread (small slices)

Directions: In the last 5 minutes of the caramelized onion recipe add Worcestershire to onions and stir periodically to develop flavor. Add beef broth and bring to simmer for about 20 minutes and adjust seasonings: another pat of butter for richness, or Worcestershire for depth (be careful of the salt content at this point – the crostini and cheese will bring more salt). When heated through, ladle 1-cup portions into bowl and top with 2 or 3 crostini depending on their size (or small slice of garlic bread) then lay a slice of Provolone on top. Serve when cheese has melted.

*On Beef Broth – use the real thing. Make a well-seasoned crock pot roast with 4 cups of water so you’ll have enough broth then throw the roast away. Seriously, the most fabulous caramelized onions can’t overcome poor quality broth. Canned just won’t do.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Deb G on March 26, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Thanks Joy – glad you’re taking special requests! This makes the task so much clearer and the temperature direction is great as I always took medium heat to mean 5 on the temp dial not 2 like you are using. I actually think I can do this now….now if you can do polenta………..


  2. Posted by Maria on March 26, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Joy, I’ve got a question for you: Is it healthier to roast or steam you veggies? or are there certain ones better steamed than roasted?


    • Maria, it is healthier to steam veggies than to roast them. Steaming retains more nutrients because it cooks for a shorter time and at a lower temperature than roasting. I make room for both methods in my diet because I love the richer flavor that comes from roasting. I also find my family will eat more vegetables that way, and roasted veggies appeal to children more than steamed veggies since they are sweeter. Anything that gets them to eat more veggies is a good thing!


  3. I’m glad this was beneficial, Deb. I should also mention that you can click on any photo and that will enlarge the image for detail. Sure, I can take you through polenta. I’ll put it on the list!


  4. Posted by pam on March 29, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Chef Joy, appreciate your attention to details which most other instructors leave out. I never imagined there were so many steps to caramelized onion, but now I see why mine never tasted quite right. The photos really helped. Thanks for all the helpful hints.


  5. […] with caramelized onions or leeks, fontina cheese and toasted pine […]


  6. Posted by lois szydlowski on April 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I made these today and added them to my Mac ‘n Cheese….really good


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