Simple Stunners: Caramelized Onions

I wanted to open this post with a movie clip from RED 2; you know, the part where they’re driving away, and Sarah asks if there is a human being in the trunk and Marvin answers: “Yeah, I’ve been caramelizing his onions for a couple of days.”

I give you permission to laugh out loud for a couple of minutes. Its just so good. But…… I couldn’t find the movie clip.


Otherwise it would be here.

So just do yourself a favor and watch the whole movie instead. Right now.


…………. OK, so now its time to figure out what you did wrong while trying to caramelize onions.

Three things are necessary to succeed in this endeavor of caramelizing onions (wow, typing the word caramelizing is really difficult. Seriously. Try it.): a heavy bottomed pan. Butter. Brown sugar.

Oops, I actually meant four, cuz the fourth one is: patience. This is because it takes at least ten minutes for the onions to reach the translucent, very-cooked stage. It also takes patience to keep the heat on low, because it is soooooooooooo tempting to just crank it to speed up the process; and what do you think happens instead of the expected result of speeding up the process? Yup, they burn. You’re right.

So here’s the method. Put your heavy bottomed pan on medium high heat for two minutes. Add a couple tablespoons of butter to the pan (the amount depends on the amount of onion; I would say that 1 tblsp. per onion should start you off pretty well, but you will probably have to add more.) and wait until the butter is completely melted. (You can use oil, it just won’t taste quite as good.) The pan is on too high of heat if the butter starts browning really fast.

Add your onions to the pan. The chopping method is something like: cut the ends off the onions and then place them flat side down on the board and cut them in half and pull the skins off. Then put the new flat side down on the board, and slice as thinly as you can, in the same direction as you cut the ends off. Get it?

So you’ve added your chopped onion to the pan. Now you lower the heat, and you let them sweat. A little color isn’t the worst thing, but, honestly, it just isn’t necessary, so don’t worry about browning them at all, just cook them and cook them until they are absolutely limp. Depending on how good your pan is, and how hot your stove-top is, this is going to take 10 to 15 minutes. As they soften, the butter will brown slowly little by little, and so will the onions.

However, they will not truly caramelize until you add the brown sugar. This is how its done, people. Brown sugar. I mean, how do you think caramel is made, anyways? So dump a couple tablespoons of brown sugar into your very soft, totally translucent onions, and stir it carefully, while you try not to drool onto your beautiful onions. Cook on a still very low heat, for about 7 or 8 minutes, until the onion are deliciously dark brown and sticky and taste amazing. Also, season them at some point, it doesn’t really matter when; the salt especially brings out the flavor, as it balances out the sweetness.

Remember, you can always add more of anything, but you cannot take away. Err on the side of caution when it comes to adding the sugar; you don’t want to over do it and ruin all your hard work.

A really awesome optional addition would also be balsamic vinegar. Again, add it a little at a time. It just goes so well with the sweetness, and adds loads to that signature stickiness that you want.

This wordy tutorial is the first in a series of basic recipes that are what I think of as “showstoppery”. Which clearly is not a word, but should be. Basically, not many ingredients, simple method, but fantastic results.

Caramelized onions bring to mind French Onion Soup (yes, that is why it is so good), quiche, grilled cheese, potatoes, a topping for pretty much any vegetable, and whatever else you feel like on any given day. They’re versatile, which is always a good quality in food I think, and. they. taste. amazing. Enjoy!



2 thoughts on “Simple Stunners: Caramelized Onions

  1. Interesting! The only recipe I’ve made for caramelized onions involves A LOT of sherry and balsamic vinegar, and though the result tastes like amazingness itself, the onions literally candy if you aren’t careful since the method is to cook them down until the vinegar has basically disappeared…something of a challenge to remove them from the heat at exactly the right moment.

    The first time I had to peel apart this sort of ‘onion taffy’ in order to incorporate it into the apple-onion compote I was supposed to be making. It was hilarious, but hey, the results tasted good, and the next time I did better, and even better the time after that. Practice makes perfect!

    I shall have to try the (seemingly much simpler) brown sugar method.


    1. I can see how that timing could be problematic. But it does sound amazing.
      Also, if its too much like candy, you just lose the onions. You’ll have to let me know
      if you’re recipe is a lot better.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s