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Burger with caramelized onions

5 Hot Tips for Really Caramelized Onions

As we roll into summer, it seems a good time to analyze the contents of our our refrigerators, to bulk up on the staples that will ease our dinnertime worries and adorn our appetizer plates, sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizzas and more.

Caramelized onions are one of those staples for me. Since they take up to 1 hour to cook down to a silken, syrupy tangle, I make them in bulk.

The long, slow cooking reduces the water and concentrates the onions’ natural sweetness, so you never need to add sugar!

Many people have trouble getting their onions dark enough, which is when the sugars break down enough to achieve that gorgeous deep caramel color and the marching band of flavors.

Caramelized onions

Part of that has to do with patience. Or maybe, as this writer asserts {worth the read}, recipe writers lie about how long it really takes to caramelize onions.

How to Caramelize Onions

Here are my 5 tips for making fully caramelized onions:

  1. Choose a heavy bottomed pan (to prevent scorching) at least 12 inches wide with low sides to allow the moisture to evaporate readily.
  2. Start with the pan on medium-high and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then as the onions turn translucent and are tinged with color, reduce it to medium; when the onions are limp and just beginning to brown, turn the heat to low.
  3. Resist the urge to stir the onions so that those in contact with the pan’s surface have a chance to brown completely.
  4. Use a wooden spoon to scrape all the hardening brown bits from the bottom of the pan (note the pan edges in the photo) during the final stage of caramelizing to stir them back into the onions.
  5. Find something to occupy yourself with for about 1 hour so that you can be nearby for periodic stirring and scraping until your onions look like you mixed them with molasses.

Once they’re cool, store them covered in the refrigerator for 5 days surrounded by the artichokes, olives, roasted red peppers, peperoncini…

Yes, they are incredible on burgers, but there are so many more places you can insert a batch of caramelized onions. Whatever will you do with them?

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Bonafide Caramelized Onions

Caramelizing onions takes nothing but a heavy-duty pan, a passel of onions and some patience. Here's my method for getting onions completely caramelized to have on hand for burgers, pizza, dips and more.

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword caramelized onions
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 2 cups
Author Lynne Curry

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or any vegetable oil
  • 4 large sliced onions, any type (about 12 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • black pepper optional

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet, at least 12 inches wide, over medium-high heat. Add the onions and stir with a wooden spoon to coat with oil. Allow to cook, stirring to prevent the onions from browning, until they are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper, if desired.

  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Continue to cook until the onions grow limp, stirring at intervals of about 5 minutes, until they onions have completely softened and begin to brown, about 15 minutes more.

  3. Reduce the heat to low. This is the critical period of cooking when the sugars in the onions will begin to brown. Leave the onions undisturbed as long as possible to encourage browning. Stir at intervals of about 10 minutes and watch them during this last 40 or so minutes of cooking to prevent scorching.

  4. Continue cooking the onions over low heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan as necessary. The onions are fully caramelized when they are a very silken mass and deeply caramel in color. Remove from the heat and store until ready to use for up to 5 days.

Recipe Notes

You can also caramelize the onions in 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil for flavor. 

For a variation, add fresh or dried herbs, such as rosemary, thyme or lavender to the onions during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

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