Caramelizing onions brings out their amazing natural flavor. They’re terrific on sandwiches and pizzas, over pastas, in soups, on meat, fish, and egg dishes, or adorning appetizer platters.
You can caramelize any type of onion. Some just caramelize more quickly than others. It all depends on their sugar content. Standard yellow onions caramelize just fine–and actually contain more sugars than “sweet” onions, which only seem to taste sweeter because they have fewer sulfur compounds.
1. To caramelize an onion, we used 1 medium onion, 3 tablespoons cooking oil or butter, a pinch of salt, a pinch of black pepper (optional), and a pinch of sugar (optional).
2. Slice the top off of your onion. Cut the onion in half from top to bottom and peel it.
3. Place half of the onion, flat side down, on a clean, flat cutting surface. Slice the onion into half-rings. The thickness of the slices is not important, although thinner slices will cook faster. If you prefer a more rustic look and feel, make the slices very thick.
4. Place a large skillet or saucepan on the stove and add a small amount of fat. Heat the oil to a medium-high temperature. We used 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Butter is also delicious, but it tends to burn more easily, so be sure the pan doesn’t get too hot.
5. When the fat begins to ripple, the oil is hot enough.
6. Add the onions to the hot oil.
7. Stir the onions until they are coated with oil.
8. Adding a pinch of salt seasons the onions at the same time it speeds up the caramelizing process. The salt will suck moisture out of the onions and eventually evaporate. Be cautious not to add too much salt. If you would like, add a pinch of ground black pepper and a very small amount of sugar.
9. Continue to stir the onions. After a minute or so, you will notice that they might have begun to stick to the bottom of the pan and turn dark in color. This is okay–in fact, it’s what should happen.
10. Continue stirring and watch as the onions’ color turns darker and darker.
11. If you feel that the onions are sticking to the bottom of the pan too much, add a very small amount of water, broth, or wine to the pan and stir vigorously; this is called “deglazing.” The water will evaporate almost immediately while loosening the onion slices.
12. Continue this process of cooking and deglazing until the onions have reached the color, flavor, and texture you desire.