Posts Tagged ‘Caramelized Onions’

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.

Ode to Onions

The humble onion is among the most healthful and powerful flavoring ingredients in the kitchen. Nearly every worldwide cuisine uses them. It is miraculous how they can transform food in so many ways. Depending on the treatment, they can be sweet or savory, crisp or soft, sharp, mellow, or nutty. Thank heavens they are cheap and abundant! If there is any one thing I always have on hand (other than dark chocolate), it is onions.

Cutting an onion off-center

Onions bring a depth of flavor that makes a dish satisfying. The most commonly available are yellow, white, and red (in the bulb form), scallions, leeks, and chives (in a leafy form). While growing, onions pick up sulfur from the soil which gives them their pungent and eye-burning character.  When cut, onions release a milky substance containing sulfuric acid, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide (the latter which causes teary eyes).  A sweet onion, such as the Vidalia, is grown in soil with less sulfur. When serving onions raw it is a good idea to rinse or even soak them briefly.

Cutting onions can ruin painstakingly-applied mascara so it is best to tend to them before donning makeup.  The sulfur will dissipate quickly.  Stepping back a little from the cutting board and not holding your head directly over the cutting board will cut down on the effects. Refrigerating the onion for 30 minutes prior to use also helps. Avoid cutting through the root end (instead cut off center, see first picture) as this is where the highest concentration of sulfur resides. The flap of the still attached union layers when peeled back make a ready handle for further chopping (second picture).

Peel back the attached layers

Known as the beauty mineral, sulfur supports healthy hair, nails, and skin.  Research suggests that the compounds in onions may help reduce the risk of gastrointestinal cancers including stomach and colorectal cancer. Adding to already impressive benefits of onions, prebiotics are associated with improved immunity and mineral absorption. Onions area good source of fiber and Vitamin C, too.

In cooking, onions are typically sweated or caramelized. Sweating is done at a gentle heat in a little oil or butter without browning. The term refers to the tiny water droplets that form as the onion loses its water (onions are about 95% water). A term used in Mediterranean cuisines, soffrito, involves sweating onions and other vegetables, considered to be a mandatory first step for most soups, sauces and risottos. Caramelizing is done at a higher heat which causes a breakdown of the onion’s proteins and sugars causing browning, creating a sweet, savory, and nutty flavor. French onion soup draws its extraordinary reputation from caramelized onions.  It is very easy to learn these two techniques. If you have some experiences you’d like to share or questions let us know!