How to Caramelize Onions

Or maybe I should have titled this post, “How to Caramelize Onions and Why You Don’t Usually Have To.”  Because nine times out of ten, when you want your onions soft and sweet, you can just cook ’em like crazy over high heat and end up with a sweet, jammy mess that will do the trick nicely.  There, I just saved you hours of standing over a hot stove.  Now you have time to read a good book.  You’re welcome.

But, ok, sometimes you want the real thing.  You want a more refined result, a whisper-soft bowl of yielding allium nectar.  Caramelizing onions is transformative, like grilling broccoli or roasting cauliflower or shaving raw brussels sprouts for a salad.  And once you make your first batch and see how little hands-on time it takes, there will be nothing to stop you from making the occasional batch to add to eggs and soups and fancy little toasts and all manner of things.

Make a big batch while you’re at it, of course, and freeze leftover caramelized onions for an easy flavor boost another day.Caramelized Onions: Thinly slice four onions.  (I usually slice them crosswise  about 1/4″ thick to end up with the texture you see above, but you can make top-to-bottom slices if you want them to melt even more.)  Cook in a heavy pan in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until the onions collapse and begin to show the first signs of browning.  Reduce heat to medium-low, add 3/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and sweet.  Taste and watch as you go, but this process can take quite some time depending on the volume of onions you start with.  My four-onion batch took a little more than an hour and yielded 3 c. cooked onions.


11 thoughts on “How to Caramelize Onions

  1. Little Sis

    Didn’t know you could freeze them…. that DOES change things, doesn’t it. And yes, you know me, I usually go for the jammy mess, but the color of proper caramelization really is more appealing. :-)

  2. hannah

    Caramelized onions are one of my most beloved flavors – and with blue cheese and poached pear on a butter cracker, holy C#$@ that’s good. My favorite party appetizer! But it has never occurred to me to freeze them … do they really hold up??? I’m almost scared to try it, it sounds so transformative.

  3. tinykitchenstories

    Thank you for not putting a recipe up that uses sugar to caramelize! Man, I hate when people do that. BTW, I assumed you WOULDN’T, I just wanted to let the people out there who think that’s how you do it —it’s not. Delish!

  4. shuhan

    I love caramelising onions– when I have the time. It just transforms it to a wonderfully sweet sticky mess, and I actually let it get an even deeper golden than yours. It’s so much work though, so I do get put off, but wow, knowing you can freeze it changes things.


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