Caramelizing Onions – Oh, how sweet it is!

I never really knew what caramelized onions were – or cared. Then, I accidentally made them one night when I was making brats for the Hubs and wanted to put some cooked onions on top. I chopped up the onions and got them cooking in a little EVOO. Then the Hubs called and said he was running late, so I turned the onions down really low and just let them simmer. I stirred them as I wandered through the kitchen occasionally, but generally ignored them. I don’t remember how late the Hubs was, and thereby how long the onions cooked, but it was a spell. When I finally put them on the brats (mine was really a chicken sausage), the most amazing sweetness came through with the mild onion flavor. WOW! Who knew?

Apparently a lot of people knew because it’s a standard cooking trick, but I figure that if I didn’t know how to do it, then other people may not either. I have a bunch of onions hanging out in the dirt in the backyard and soon I’ll be harvesting and curing them for winter storage. While I let them finish maturing, I have pulled a few to use in my daily cooking. They are so pungent and  fresh tasting. They even make me cry when I chop them and I haven’t cried over onions in years. Oh, and the stalks are wonderful to chop up and use like green onions. I’m sure there are whole recipes devoted to the stalks, but I have more pressing issues with all of the other produce to harvest and cook – I’ll learn that later (but please share if you know any).

I grew white, yellow and purple onions. Soon, I will pull them out for curing.

A purple pretty from the garden

Anyway, I am digressing. Caramelizing onions is super easy and the payoff is huge! Here’s how to do it:

You can use whatever sort of onion you have on hand. Slice it up into rings, about half an inch or so and use the whole onion because it’s going to shrink down.

Slice up a whole onion into rings

Next, heat up a small skillet to medium heat. After it’s hot, add some EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) – enough to mostly coat the bottom of the pan – and let it warm up. Add the onions and season with some salt and pepper. You can also drizzle a little EVOO over the top, but they don’t need to swim in the oil.

Place the onions with some EVOO and salt and pepper in the warm pan

After they start to soften, turn the heat to a low-medium heat. Keep it low and cook it slow! You’ll notice the onions starting to brown – that’s the carmelization! I promise they’re not burning, as long as your heat is low. If you’re worried, turn it down a bit more.

The dark color is the caramelizing process in action!

Keep an eye on them, but go about your business doing other kitchen tasks and just give them a stir now and then. They will keep getting yummier and yummier.

Keep cooking them low and slow for super sweetness

You’ll also notice that they are shrinking up, too. Again, that’s ok and it’s part of the process. Usually, it takes about 25-30 minutes to caramelize an onion, but it will depend on how thick your slices were when you started, and your cooking temp. No, cooking at a higher temp will not make the process faster because they will crisp up and burn. However, like my first try, you can cook them at a super low temp for longer to squeeze even more yummy out of them. I find the 30 minute mark is about right for my tastes – oh yeah, make sure you have some tasters along the way!

When they turn a deep, dark CARAMEL color, they’re done!

That’s all there is to it! So heap some on your burger or your brat and experience a whole new level in taste-ology. But, stay tuned because I have some upcoming recipes that take the caramelized onion beyond the brat and burger – way beyond. In the meantime, experiment by using them in recipes that you might ordinarily use regular boring cooked onions in and see how it improves the flavor. Simply stirring in some chopped veggies, like zucchini, broccoli or peppers – or green beans! Or mushrooms! (so many options), at the end of the caramelizing step and cooking for a few more minutes would be an easy, flavorful side or even main dish……Or… roasted potatoes would be fabulous with these onions! I could go on..but you get it.

Ok, now you know the process and I’m sure I’ve convinced you that you must make some caramelized onions NOW, but it gets better. How? When you’re cooking the onions, pour in a little BEER (like 1/4 cup) and let it cook down with the onions. Seriously – it takes the whole thing to an even deeper, more flavorsome place that you may never have experienced before. Do it.

Oooooo…and I bet wine would also be a heavenly twist….

Leave a comment and let us know how you’re using caramelized onions.

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  1. Janine says:

    I have a recipe for these onions mixed with hard boiled eggs for a sandwich filling. I just eat it in a bowl, however, heavy on the Caramelized onions ;). Since I gross out my family with all the onions, I usually don’t share but thought you might be interested.

    1. Hard boiled eggs with caramelized onions…hmm. I have to think about that combo first. Love onions and love eggs – just the two together? I’ll trust you that it’s yummy.

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  4. dorothy says:

    Hi. Just linked to this website. Good stuff!
    About caramelized onions with hard- boiled eggs: It’s a riff on an old world recipe. But try this: chop in to the egg/onion mixture at least one cup cooked, chopped green beans (well-drained and not too soft) and a small handful of unsalted roast cashews that have been chopped fine. Blend well. Stir in one teaspoon of low-fat mayo, 1/2 tsp brown mustard and a generous shake (or more) of black pepper. Mix well, refrigerate and serve cold with pumpernickel bread and sliced tomatoe on the side.
    I cook by ‘feel’ and don’t own a measuring cup. So adjust the egg/onion/green bean proportions to suit your tastes. Enjoy!

    1. Betsie @ Cooking Ripe! says:

      Dorothy – thank you for the complete recipe for using the eggs and caramelized onions – sounds very old world, indeed! I cook by ‘feel’ and taste and have a hard time remembering to write down my measurements so I can share my recipes here! Dash of this and a smidge of know!

      1. dorothy says:

        What I posted is one of many variations on vegetarian chopped liver.

  5. […] Caramelizing Onions – Oh how sweet it is! […]