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Oniongate
May 7, 2012 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Undoubtedly, at some point in your life, a recipe has told you to brown or caramelize some onions for 5-10 minutes. As many frustrated cooks have found through experience, this step of the recipe is a damned lie. In fact, the now-ubiquitous suggestion of 5-10 minutes isn't even a remote approximation of the amount of time it takes to brown an onion; Alton Brown and Julia Child weigh in on the matter, suggesting that the task can take anywhere from 45 minute to an hour.

Extra Credit: Kinetics of non-enzymatic browning in onion slices during isothermal heating [Paywall'd]
posted by schmod (202 comments total) 213 users marked this as a favorite

 
And that's why the world is full of tender, translucent, flavorless onions.
Caramelize everything.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:56 AM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Get a cast-iron pan and some bacon fat, slice a bunch of onions, angle your TV so it can be seen from the kitchen, and stir absentmindedly over medium-low while you get your Game of Thrones on. By the end of the episode, caramelized onions! Then eat them on everything for two weeks and ignore your roommates' complaints that the entire apartment stinks of onions.

The slow cooker thing works, too.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:57 AM on May 7, 2012 [26 favorites]


This method takes even longer, but if you want to plan ahead, carmelizing onions is really easy in a slow-cooker - peel about 6-8 onions (depending on size of both onions and cooker) and slice/chop/make them the shape you want, and throw them into your cooker, then drizzle in a little olive oil and sprinkle in a bit of salt. Stir it up, put it on "high" for about an hour, then turn to "Low" and leave it for 12 hours.

Result: a few cups of perfectly carmelized onions which you can dole out into smaller containers and freeze/refrigerate for instant use in future recipes, blithely free of the "the recipe says it takes 20 minutes" issue.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:57 AM on May 7, 2012 [88 favorites]


Oh, and if you do that - 1/2 cup of frozen carmelized onions + 2 cups of beef broth + a splash of wine = nearly-instant French onion soup. Just dump into a pot and heat until the onions are thawed and everything's hot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on May 7, 2012 [41 favorites]


In what fantasyland do you people live in where a pan full of delicious carmelized onions lasts longer than a night?
posted by beaucoupkevin at 8:01 AM on May 7, 2012 [86 favorites]


Onions will burn anyway the moment you walk away from them. Since you will be watching them the entire time, there's no point to timing the process. When they're ready, they're ready.
posted by gimonca at 8:02 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fucking starving here, people. Don't you realize that for some of us it's coming up on lunchtime?
posted by zombieflanders at 8:02 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


In what fantasyland do you people live in where a pan full of delicious carmelized onions lasts longer than a night?

The trick is to caramalize 6-8 onions per person.
posted by NathanBoy at 8:04 AM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


zombieflanders: "Fucking starving here, people. Don't you realize that for some of us it's coming up on lunchtime"

I don't think the discussion has quite yet turned to caramlized brains, so you should still be ok.
posted by barnacles at 8:05 AM on May 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


Here's Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh...

Isn't that like asking an Italian how to make Chinese noodles?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:05 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Undoubtedly, at some point in your life, a recipe instruction book has told you to brown or caramelize some onions season a pan at 350-400° for 5-10 60 minutes. As many frustrated cooks have found through experience, this step is a damned lie.
posted by crapmatic at 8:05 AM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Caramelizing onions can be greatly accelerated with the addition of baking soda, up to 1/4 tsp per pound with no ill effect on flavor.
posted by jedicus at 8:06 AM on May 7, 2012 [66 favorites]


I'm glad to hear this, and so is my carbonnade recipe. I always thought I was doing it wrong by letting the onions caramelize for way longer than the recipe called for, but now I'm going to let that stage go on even longer than it already was...
posted by the painkiller at 8:08 AM on May 7, 2012


Actually, this is well-timed, as I did just carmelize a ton of onions this weekend to have in the readiness. But I've actually not been in the habit of using them up to this point and am looking to play, so if anyone has ideas....(the french onion soup was my experiment 1, and then a Japanese meal - a bit of minced beef, simmered in a bit of wine, soy sauce and mirin and a spoon of onions, served over rice - was experiment 2.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 AM on May 7, 2012


I don't get it... why would you cook the onions that long? A few minutes in oil with garlic before the meat goes in the pan seems perfectly fine to me.

I'll try this other thing tonight - this, Carmalization. Does anyone have a suggested food to go with them?
posted by rebent at 8:09 AM on May 7, 2012


I stll say that 'caramelized' would be a great euphemism for 'drunk.'
posted by jonmc at 8:09 AM on May 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


rebent: almost anything! Mix them with scrambled eggs; put them on pizza; toss them on a burger or steak; make a rice dish and put them in that. Or just eat them by the spoonful.
posted by rtha at 8:14 AM on May 7, 2012


Undoubtedly, at some point in your life, a recipe has told you to brown or caramelize some onions for 5-10 minutes.

You better warm up your doubter. I can't stand cooked onions in any form.
posted by DU at 8:15 AM on May 7, 2012


hey, it only takes me 10 seconds to caramelize an onion, but i prefer apples
posted by pyramid termite at 8:16 AM on May 7, 2012 [34 favorites]


The one time I had leftover caramelized onions, I stuck them on a pizza and it was fantastic.

But yes, recipes very often say things they do not mean, and "caramelized" onions are almost never actually called-for. People who write recipes for magazines and websites make them sound appealing with words like "caramelized."
posted by uncleozzy at 8:18 AM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't get it... why would you cook the onions that long? A few minutes in oil with garlic before the meat goes in the pan seems perfectly fine to me.

Carmelized onions are very sweet, often a bit sticky and don't taste much like onions in their original state. The carmelized versus sweated-a-bit debate that so often develops always reminds me of the hippie-pizza-versus-authentic-pizza debate, in that there is no reason that you cannot enjoy both.
posted by Frowner at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


last night I made caramelized onion pizza on this cornmeal crust. just a crazy amount caramelized onions, mozzarella and some roasted garlic. AMAZING.

they're also great on hot dogs and in grilled cheese sandwiches. oh I just found this caramelized onion/bacon/cheddar deviled eggs recipe and am dying to make it.

to speed up caramelization in the beginning, I usually add water along with the olive oil, and when the water cooks down and they start to brown, I add a few splashes more water and stir.
posted by changeling at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


why would you cook the onions that long? A few minutes in oil with garlic before the meat goes in the pan seems perfectly fine to me.

What you're doing in that instance is sauteeing the onions. Carmelizing them enhances the sweetness and brings out a different flavor (as I've just found).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


(and let them simmer even longer, of course.)
posted by changeling at 8:20 AM on May 7, 2012


I don't get it... why would you cook the onions that long? A few minutes in oil with garlic before the meat goes in the pan seems perfectly fine to me.

Chemistry, my good man. Specifically the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the tasty browned bits of bread, steak, malt, caramel, and tasty tasty caramelized onions (which are the color of stained wood and are a fundamentally different food than your sauteed onions).
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:20 AM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


am looking to play, so if anyone has ideas...

I use caramelized onions from a Molly Katzen recipe, it's in the updated Moosewood Cookbook. I don't have the exact recipe in front of me, but mine has evolved into caramelized onions-spinach cooked into onions-feta cheese melted on top-toasted nuts- on penne
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 8:20 AM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


When I tried the slow cooker thing my onions came out really liquidy and soupy instead of deeply brown and sticky. Is there a trick I'm missing?
posted by Kimberly at 8:22 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The New York Times Magazine gave Nathan Myhrvold, of Modernist Cuisine tome fame, a feature in the cooking section.

His recipe was probably the simplest ever, after that guy who wrote "slice a tomato, eat it."

Onions (several pounds) and butter in a crock pot. A few drops of real Balsmatic vinegar. Cook on low for a long time.

The great thing about this, other than working very well, is that from the smell all your neighbors think you are making something elaborate all day long.

Kimberly, maybe leave the lid off the crock pot for a while?
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:24 AM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


A few minutes in oil with garlic before the meat goes in the pan seems perfectly fine to me.

Try making French Onion Soup with onions that have been cooked like that. What you get is French Onion Complete Shite.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:24 AM on May 7, 2012 [38 favorites]


On the advice of the Cook's Illustrated show, I started sauteing onions with butter instead of olive oil and they taste SO much better. I can get almost the same effect using half butter and half olive oil.

I've always used butter + crock pot for caramelized onions. I should try it with olive oil instead to see if I lose anything.
posted by VTX at 8:26 AM on May 7, 2012


Caramelizing onions can be greatly accelerated with the addition of baking soda, up to 1/4 tsp per pound with no ill effect on flavor.

I tried this once. While you couldn't taste the baking soda, it caused the onions to get rather mushy, which had a definite effect on the flavor.
posted by me3dia at 8:28 AM on May 7, 2012


I just ran into this in an Indian cookbook. I read the menu recipe in a hurry and didn't catch it. I was 15m into dinner for a hungry toddler when my tiny amount of kitchen training kicked in and I realized I should have started an hour earlier.

The problem is not just remembering this, but catching it in as recipe book when coming up with weekly menus. French onion soup, I remember the timing. But other menus, not so much.

But, yeah, listen to Brown. For he speaks the sooth.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:30 AM on May 7, 2012


Looking forward to doing it the real way, but for those without the time cheating by sauteing sweet onions in black sesame oil comes out awesome.
posted by XMLicious at 8:31 AM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


"The faster you try to do it, the more you waste your time. This isn't some kitchen koan. It's a practical fact."

THIS.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:34 AM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


My friends if you want to use dodgy wine that may have gone a bit off then caramelizing onions in butter with the wine added to the deglazing in a pan works peachy since it brings up all the browned up bits. Letting the liquid simmer off gets you more brown and an extra layer of flavor with they thyme leaves.
posted by jadepearl at 8:34 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


In what fantasyland do you people live in where a pan full of delicious carmelized onions lasts longer than a night?

Seriously. Half the time mine don't even make it farther than pan to mouth. An hour of stirring later and the pan is spotless.
posted by looli at 8:35 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've long wondered about this. It's like the recipes that call for 5 - 10 minutes are either afraid of scaring off non-committal cooks or they're claiming that "clarified onions" are the same thing as "caramelized onions" (hint: they're not).

Even clarifying can take longer than 5 - 10 minutes if you're using a properly low heat to avoid burning your onions.
posted by asnider at 8:36 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Balsmatic

This sounds like a 50's appliance.
posted by jonmc at 8:36 AM on May 7, 2012 [23 favorites]


When I tried the slow cooker thing my onions came out really liquidy and soupy instead of deeply brown and sticky. Is there a trick I'm missing?

Take the lid off.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:37 AM on May 7, 2012


I am going to try the slow cooker version soon. Just reading this is making me hungry.
posted by Forktine at 8:40 AM on May 7, 2012


Balsmatic

This sounds like a 50's appliance.


I believe they referred to those as "marital aides" back then.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:40 AM on May 7, 2012 [25 favorites]


Thanks to reading this thread, my whole house smells like caramelized onions, and I'm not even cooking onions.
posted by Fnarf at 8:41 AM on May 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


I love how the guy in the Slate article was told that there was a faster way to carmelize onions, decided to try it, and promptly did exactly the opposite of the instructions he was told by frying the absolute crap out of the onions, as if anybody could ever carmelize onions that way. I suspect he was acting like an idiot on purpose. Somehow all this ranting annoyed me a great deal.
posted by koeselitz at 8:41 AM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Beer is a very good thing to add to onions when you're caramelising.
posted by pipeski at 8:43 AM on May 7, 2012


Jedicus, that's brilliant! Thanks for the links - can't wait to try accelerating the Maillard reaction with Na bicarb, since I love me some caramelized onions but often don't have the time to do them right (and no slow cooker). And fie on the lying liars who publish misleading recipes!
posted by Quietgal at 8:45 AM on May 7, 2012


I love how the guy in the Slate article was told that there was a faster way to carmelize onions, decided to try it, and promptly did exactly the opposite of the instructions he was told by frying the absolute crap out of the onions, as if anybody could ever carmelize onions that way. I suspect he was acting like an idiot on purpose. Somehow all this ranting annoyed me a great deal.

True enough, but he's still right. I can't count the number of recipes I've seen that say that your onions will start turning golden brown in five minutes, and it just isn't true. And no, using butter won't change that.
posted by yoink at 8:46 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Caramaziled carrot soup is amazing, (via recent FPP about pressure cookers). Now I'm going to have to try something similiar with onions; a bit of butter, some baking soda, onions and maybe 20 minutes in a pressure cooker. Add to soup / gravy.
posted by ecco at 8:49 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the first things I learned when really starting to cook is to ignore the time component of any recipe and just use my own judgement as to when things are actually done.
posted by hwestiii at 8:50 AM on May 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


But what if there were a way to add butter so that it cuts carmelization time down to 30 minutes? That would be completely awesome, amd it would be really cool. Unfortunately the guy was hellbent on making a mess of it so he could rant more.
posted by koeselitz at 8:50 AM on May 7, 2012


Jesus, people:

1. POUR CARAMEL ON ONIONS.

2. YOU'RE DONE.

It's not rocket science.
posted by jscalzi at 8:52 AM on May 7, 2012 [63 favorites]


I don't get it... why would you cook the onions that long?

Why scramble/fry/poach an egg when you can hard boil it? Why broil meat when you can braise it? Milk/ice cream, corn on the cob/whiskey, etc forever and ever amen.

It's simply a different approach, and you're right - onions done almost any way are awesome so if you don't have to time, saute - it's a perfectly legitimate preparation. But it's not caramelized.
posted by phearlez at 8:54 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


and maybe 20 minutes in a pressure cooker.

This won't give you caramelized onions. Take the extra half hour and do it properly.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:56 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've got some schmaltz left over that I wasn't sure how to use up. I'll get back to y'all with the results.
posted by maudlin at 8:58 AM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


One thing I like to do is to toss a bunch of sliced onion and unpeeled garlic cloves with salt, pepper, and a teeny bit of oil before putting them under a chicken (spiced and oiled/buttered per your preferences) to be roasted for 45m-1hr. It's the same amount of time, the aroma is fantastic, and at the end you have not only a tasty chicken, but also roasted garlic and caramelized onions that are soaked in the chicken's juices. It's probably not the textbook definition of either of the latter--the onions could certainly use another couple of minutes' heat on the stovetop*--but it works for me. If you want to toss in some other veggies (I sometimes add carrots and celery) for a medley of awesome, that won't hurt either.


* This is made easier if you use a cast-iron skillet instead of a roasting pan.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:58 AM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos is totally dominating this thread. The rest of us really need to raise our games here.
posted by mhoye at 9:00 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, OK. Should have read that recipe first. It might do if you use bicarb and pressure cook the onions in fat like they do with the carrots.

It doesn't work if you use water though. I've tried that and it fails miserably.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:01 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Best French Onion Soup (…ever!)
It does take 3 hours though
posted by Lanark at 9:08 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like (generally) following the Joy of Cooking's basic mac & cheese recipe, but instead of sweating the onions I caramelize them and deglaze the pan with soy sauce and sake - oddly enough it takes a lot longer to make. Of course I also add in cayenne pepper and smoked paprica... now that I think about it, I only vaguely follow the recipe, in that there is a bechamel sauce and cheese and macaroni (which I replace with cavatappi). I'm tempted to try the slow cooker approach, just to have a caramelized onions through the week.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 9:08 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I stll say that 'caramelized' would be a great euphemism for 'drunk.'

Indeed. And that leads to 'charred' for 'very drunk' and 'completely burnt' for 'dude, did you really need to throw up on another cop's shoes tonight?'
posted by eriko at 9:08 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


1. POUR CARAMEL ON ONIONS.

2. YOU'RE DONE.


Double dog dare you.
posted by eriko at 9:08 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Friends.

Camelized onions, Brie and thin slices of pear on a pizza.

That is all.
posted by salishsea at 9:09 AM on May 7, 2012 [14 favorites]


> Here's Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh... Isn't that like asking an Italian how to make Chinese noodles?

What?
posted by desuetude at 9:09 AM on May 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


Eh, onions and garlic are even worse than meat.
posted by rainy at 9:09 AM on May 7, 2012


When I tried the slow cooker thing my onions came out really liquidy and soupy instead of deeply brown and sticky. Is there a trick I'm missing?

Take the lid off.

So ... cook it outside? I can't even imagine onion seeping in after all that.
posted by tilde at 9:09 AM on May 7, 2012


Actual carmelized (not just briefly sweated) onions are fantastic on beef. Hamburgers, pot roast, meatloaf, steak. Oh man, I'm salivating just thinking about it. When I grill hamburgers, I put one patty on the bun and then pile the onions about an inch high on top.
posted by xedrik at 9:13 AM on May 7, 2012


Flagged as delicious! What, there's not a flag for that? Well, off to MeTa for a pony request...
posted by TedW at 9:14 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never realized this was such a big deal. Isn't the difference clear just based on end product? Caramelized for only 5-10 minutes I always thought was short hand for sweated. I didn't realie it was even Onion-gate level of misdirection for some people.
posted by Carillon at 9:15 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we're trading caramelized onion recipes:

Marinate a coupla chicken breasts between 6 hours and overnight in:

lime juice to cover
maybe a teaspoon of salt
maybe a teaspoon of black pepper
about a tablespoon of oregano
roughly two tablespoons of olive oil
one chopped onion

Take the chicken breast out of the marinade and grill it (or pan-fry it if you don't have a grill handy). Slice it into thin strips.

Cook down the rest of the marinade with the onions still in it until the liquids have largely evaporated, and the onions of caramelized.

Now throw the chicken and onions into some tortillas, along with cheese, sour cream, peppers, anything you like.

Jawsome fajitas, y'all.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:16 AM on May 7, 2012 [23 favorites]


Just buy Vidalia onions and sautee them on low heat until they're soft. Won't taste the same, it'll taste better.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:16 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I tried this recipe from Fine Cooking with caramelized onions this Christmas, and it worked a treat:

Roasted Squash and Polenta Torta with Caramelized Onions

1 acorn or butternut squash, halved and seeded
2 Tbs exra-virgin olive oil
5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
2 1/2 cups coarse cornmeal (Bob's Red Mill)
2 1/4 lb red onions, quartered and thinly sliced
sea salt
4 Tsp thyme
1/2 tsp paprika
2 Tbs sweet Sherry or Marsala
8 oz extra-old cheddar, shredded

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roast the squash cut-side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet till tender, about 50 minutes or so. Scoop the flesh from the skin and mash with a potato masher. You'll need 2 cups for the recipe, the rest you can use for another recipe. Bring the broth and water to a boil in a heavy saucepan, add the cornmeal, whisking to blend the cornmeal well. Lower the heat and simmer for 40 minutes until tender and not gritty. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add in the onions and salt, stirring, until the onions soften, 5-6 minutes. Lower the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, till reduced in volume by a third, and starting to look like jam. Uncover, increase the heat, and add the sherry. Cook, stirring often, till the sherry has been absorbed. Remove from the heat. Stir 6 oz of the cheese into the cornmeal, along with the thyme and squash. Spread half the polenta mixture in a greased baking dish or a springform pan. Spread the onions over the polenta, spreading all the way to the edges of the pan. Top with the remaining polenta. Score the top of the polenta with a fork, and sprinkle on the rest of the cheese.

You can chill this in the fridge and finish it up to two days afterward in the oven, or bake it right away, depending on when you plan on serving it. Either way, bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes till hot all the way through.
posted by LN at 9:17 AM on May 7, 2012 [22 favorites]


Gentlemen, we are through the cooking class here
posted by Bwithh at 9:18 AM on May 7, 2012 [38 favorites]


I haven’t tried this, but you can order it by the jar.
posted by davel at 9:20 AM on May 7, 2012


jscalzi: 1. POUR CARAMEL ON ONIONS.

2. YOU'RE DONE.


eriko: Double dog dare you.

You do realize that you're talking to a man who taped bacon to a cat, right?
posted by maudlin at 9:20 AM on May 7, 2012 [22 favorites]


Use schmalz.

You're welcome.
posted by monospace at 9:22 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here's Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh... Isn't that like asking an Italian how to make Chinese noodles?

What?

Yeah I didn't get that either -- are Indians not supposed to know how to caramelize onions?
posted by peacheater at 9:23 AM on May 7, 2012


Yeah, I came here also to ask why Madhur Jaffrey isn't supposed to know about caramelized onions. Her recipe for mujaddarah in World Vegetarian is what taught me about caramelizing when I was just learning to cook.
posted by something something at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


(I think the joke is the rogan josh is a Kashmiri dish, or at least it is in this town, and Kashmiri != Indian.)
posted by introp at 9:30 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh wow, I can't wait to cook some cipollini onions in my slow cooker!
posted by BibiRose at 9:31 AM on May 7, 2012


One reason why Julia Child's books are so good is that she exercised quality control like a ruthless ISO9000 compliance auditor. You can rest assured that every recipe in her books was tested a zillion times. This is in contrast to many cookbooks in which a bunch of recipes don't work properly because, apparently, they're just impressionist abstractions to the general concept of the dish. The New York Times weighs in on the problem.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


Balsmatic – This sounds like a 50's appliance.

Like one of those vibrating belt exercise machines, but tiny.
posted by zippy at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chemistry, my good man. Specifically the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the tasty browned bits of bread, steak, malt, caramel, and tasty tasty caramelized onions (which are the color of stained wood and are a fundamentally different food than your sauteed onions).

Confusingly, caramelization is a different process, and the two often happen simultaneously.

Anyway, I've made caramelized onions with just about every type of fat I've gotten my hands on (I skipped vegetable\canola\shortening and deer tallow). Personally a mixture of bacon and goose fat is my favorite. The bacon adds a nice complex smokey flavor and goose fat is just... magic.

I've also put them on every kind of meat that's been in my freezer, and here's the conclusion I've reached:

You take a couple of pork chops and put on a mixture of Herbs De Provence and salt, and let that sit for a good hour or two (it's worth it). While this is going on you do the caramalized onions in bacon\goose fat (or just bacon, or bacon and duck, or bacon and X, really the Bacon's the important part). Take the onions out, and saute some apples (good baking apples). You then deglaze the pan with a combination of chicken stock and balsamic vinegar. and reduce to a glaze like consistency. Cook the pork-chops in your preferred method, brush the top of the pork-chops with the reduced glaze, then toss the onions, and apples in with the glaze, and serve with\on top of the pork chops.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:45 AM on May 7, 2012 [20 favorites]


I swear I saw a detailed recipe in AskMe a couple years ago about carmelizing onions to within an inch of their lives for maximum deliciousness, but I just tried finding it for the 2nd time and failed again. Anyone else remember that one?
posted by mediareport at 9:45 AM on May 7, 2012


This is in contrast to many cookbooks in which a bunch of recipes don't work properly because, apparently, they're just impressionist abstractions to the general concept of the dish.

This problem seems to be even more rampant with recipes on the internet. Once I realized that people are trying document precise measurements of ingredients for things they make all the time without measuring, those recipes started turning out a lot better.

Look, I get that it's easy for you to cook whatever dish you think is great and add the right amount of water or whatever to make the sauce but you need to measure that shit as you make it before you try and write it down and put it on the internet. People suck at estimating stuff like that and I can't tell you how many times I've looked a recipe and thought, "Really? That seems like an awful lot of ." Shrugged and followed the recipe anyways only to have it turn out awful.

All you have to do is put more than you need into a measuring cup and then add it to your dish until you have enough. Subtract what's left from what you started with and, ta-da!, that's how much you actually added!

posted by VTX at 9:45 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


You should add black pepper in there where it seems appropriate.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:45 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh... Isn't that like asking an Italian how to make Chinese noodles?

What?

Yeah I didn't get that either -- are Indians not supposed to know how to caramelize onions?


I think the joke is the rogan josh is a Kashmiri dish, or at least it is in this town, and Kashmiri != Indian.

No joke, it's not even Kashmiri.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:54 AM on May 7, 2012


Metafilter: Caramelize everything.
posted by alby at 9:55 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Caramelize ALL the things!
posted by maudlin at 9:57 AM on May 7, 2012 [14 favorites]


Pressure cooker with butter and a little bit of baking soda for 10ish minutes.

De-pressurise and take the lid off. Reduce the heat and keep stirring to evaporate all the water and add some more browning to that shizzle.

Total time: 25ish. So caramelised they taste like sugar - or something very close to it.

As mentioned upthread: too much baking soda will disintegrate the onions (by breaking down the cell walls?)
posted by flippant at 10:01 AM on May 7, 2012


>>Chemistry, my good man. Specifically the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the tasty browned bits of bread, steak, malt, caramel, and tasty tasty caramelized onions (which are the color of stained wood and are a fundamentally different food than your sauteed onions).

>Confusingly, caramelization is a different process, and the two often happen simultaneously.


Actually, when we say "caramelized onions" most of the time we're talking about "Maillardized onions." Caramelization and Mailliardization can happen at the same time, but this almost never happens in the case of long-cooked browned onions. The reason for this is that caramelization doesn't even begin to happen until around 110C, and doesn't get going in earnest until around 160C. These temperatures, one might note, are all substantially higher than the boiling point of water. Maillard reactions are strongest up around 160C as well, but they do happen at much lower temperatures, which is why it can take so long to "Maillardize" a bunch of onions.

The only way to get actual caramelization in onions is to get the temperature up high. There are a few ways you can do this. You can saute the onions over very high heat, which will caramelize the exterior of the onions but leave the interior largely uncooked. Or you can fully soften and Maillardize the onions, then crank up the heat at the end to cook off the water and fry the onions in the fat which remains. Or you can do both: saute the onions over high heat for some caramelization (this will produce some precursor chemicals that will be useful in the later reactions), reduce to low heat to Maillardize for an hour, then crank up the heat at the end to caramelize until a deep, dark color is achieved. In the final stage, it's useful to have some deglazing liquid handy to rapidly lower the temperature, as the onions can go from deeply browned to burnt in the blink of an eye (just as sugar can go from caramel to burnt sugar in a few seconds).
posted by slkinsey at 10:03 AM on May 7, 2012 [24 favorites]


Thank you one and all for a SUBLIMELY TASTY thread.

I am so hungry now...
posted by kinnakeet at 10:03 AM on May 7, 2012


I dated a girl who didn't know how to caramelize onions. She tried to make pizza using her "caramelized for 20 minutes (i.e., half raw, half sweated)" onions and it was a horrible experience.

Just a pizza covered in two pounds of under cooked onions and bad BBQ sauce.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:04 AM on May 7, 2012


Metafilter: Caramelize ALL the beans!
posted by tilde at 10:04 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, when we say "caramelized onions" most of the time we're talking about "Maillardized onions.".


That's what makes it confusing, yes.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:04 AM on May 7, 2012


One of In-N-Out's secret menu items is grilled onions.

I supposed they are not caramelized, but I don't care. I just really want an In-N-Out after reading this thread. I blame all of you.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:13 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like one of those vibrating belt exercise machines, but tiny.

I cannot stop laughing here, imaging just the face of a slightly jowly man, shaking just a little and looking distressedly confused as you hear a small "wugga wugga wugga" noise from off-camera.
posted by mhoye at 10:14 AM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


changeling: Dammit. If only I'd read the cornmeal pizza crust recipe *before* I put the pizza dough on to rise tonight. That sounds intriguingly tasty.
posted by DRMacIver at 10:14 AM on May 7, 2012


Here's Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh...

Isn't that like asking an Italian how to make Chinese noodles?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:05 AM on 5/7
[+] [!]


It's more like asking a Chinese person about cooking pork or perhaps an Italian about olive oil.
Onions are a key staple of the Indian diet , especially for the poor - high onion prices can even determine elections in India
posted by Bwithh at 10:15 AM on May 7, 2012


this recipe sounds weird, it looks weird after you've made it but it's really delicious.

Creamy Caramelized Onion Pasta

3 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fettuccine pasta
8 ounce container creme fraiche
5 ounce container arugula
1 cup thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
Salt and ground pepper

In a large slow cooker, combine the onions and olive oil. Stir well to coat, then cover and cook on high for 6 to 8 hours, or until well browned and caramelized.

When the onions are done, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain, then return to the pot. Add the onions, creme fraiche, arugula and sun-dried tomatoes. Stir over medium heat until the arugula just begins to wilt, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.

(we used sour cream the second time we made it - cheaper & easier to find than creme fraiche, tasted just as good. Keep about a cup of pasta water in reserve as the mix will get thick & you may want to loosen it up. We free-styled this the first go-round and put everything in the crock pot to mix instead of using the stove; the stove top finishing method gives a better result)
posted by jaimystery at 10:19 AM on May 7, 2012 [31 favorites]


I swear I saw a detailed recipe in AskMe a couple years ago about carmelizing onions to within an inch of their lives for maximum deliciousness, but I just tried finding it for the 2nd time and failed again. Anyone else remember that one?

I've linked to this Tigers and Strawberries post on browning onions a couple of times. It may not be the recipe you're thinking of, but it's definitely detailed (including things like proper knife technique that most recipes won't mention) and I find the resulting deliciousness pretty near maximal.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:26 AM on May 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


99 comments and no one has mentioned caramelized leeks? The magic ingredient for getting picky toddlers to eat their veggies, by the way.
posted by ambrosia at 10:28 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: the face of a slightly jowly man, shaking just a little and looking distressedly confused as you hear a small "wugga wugga wugga" noise from off-camera
posted by axiom at 10:29 AM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook has a recipe for French Onion soup and the onion caramelizing takes 5 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

I've made that recipe more than once and friends, it's worth it.

That book also has the best vichyssoise I've ever tasted. Thankfully, that takes 30-40 minutes to make.
posted by Tacodog at 10:35 AM on May 7, 2012


Daddy? Why is it alright that YouTube allows uploaders to not let people from other countries watch their videos? Is it because of Jean Chretien?
posted by Trochanter at 10:36 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Red onions, by the way. Caramelize those once in awhile. In butter. A few drops of Balsamic vinegar couldn't hurt.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:54 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, you guys are forcing me to do this...

My husband and I used to make a sandwich that we found in Eating Well magazine. It included onion jam (OMG, just let me wipe up the drool here for a moment), goat cheese, arugula, roasted red peppers, and olive tapanade.

Oh, yes -- here it is. EVERYONE MUST EAT THIS!

(And yes, the recipte does not allow enough time for the onions to properly carmelize -- we knew better.)
posted by blurker at 10:57 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Onions are a key staple of the Indian diet , especially for the poor - high onion prices can even determine elections in India

I think the point was that Jaffrey is from Delhi (and, for many years now, the US), and Rogan Josh is from Kashmir. India is a very varied country.
posted by bluefly at 10:58 AM on May 7, 2012


Cookiebastard, yes! Red onions are the best. Even though I like regular (like yellow) onions caramelized, they make my stomach hurt. But red onions, for whatever reason, don't.

I don't care for the "Best" French Onion soup recipe, though, Lanark. First, it calls for several rounds of deglazing, which is just overkill. And it also specifies yellow onions, when red would be yummier. Sounds like the commenters found the results less than consistent as well. Sorry.

That New York Times article LastOfHisKind linked is an excellent write-up. I did wince at this, though:

''Cookbook writing is very tough,'' Ms. Jones said. ''You have to write for beginners and advanced cooks.'' And there is an additional problem. ''There are a lot more dummy cooks than there used to be.''

Ouch. When my mother went to school, girls took years of home economics. Years! It was a required course (and should have been required for boys, too!). Now, even for the kids who opt to take it, Home Ec is generally just a semester. We don't have "dummy" cooks, we just have more people who haven't been taught to cook properly.

I'd think it would be great for editors to get some trusted food bloggers on board for helping them test some pre-cookbook publishing recipes. They could just delay the posting of the results until the cookbook being tested was actually published. If more than one person found that a recipe didn't work, hopefully that recipe would be left out of the final published version.
posted by misha at 11:08 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


jscalzi: 1. POUR CARAMEL ON ONIONS.

2. YOU'RE DONE.


eriko: Double dog dare you.

maudlin: You do realize that you're talking to a man who taped bacon to a cat, right?


I was just thinking that the the caramel would be a more environmentally sound way to stick the bacon to the cat, actually.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 11:11 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Man my local Chinese market has yellow onions for 19 cents a pound right now. (I love the Chinese market, it's like secretly getting to go grocery shopping in 1974!) Perhaps I should make a buttload of caramelized onions in my slow cooker and freeze them.

Gah, except I have to get the salmon in the cure to smoke tomorrow, and slice up half the bacon I smoked yesterday to freeze. (Maybe. How long does bacon stay good in the fridge? How long will it take me to eat seven pounds of bacon?) Plus I wanted to make chicken sausage this week. Too few hours in the day!
posted by KathrynT at 11:13 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Onions are a key staple of the Indian diet , especially for the poor - high onion prices can even determine elections in India

This is at once correct and incorrect. Some Hindu denominations proscribe onions - really, all of the allium family, including garlic and shallots - on the belief that consuming them overheats human passions in an unhealthy way.

Subcontinental cuisine is endlessly fascinating, as the ingredients are reflections of the various ethnicities, cultures and faiths that originated the dish. There's a local Indian restaurant that has a beef and onion curry on special - the owners and cooks are Muslim, so it's a very authentic dish, but not one you'd come across very often.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:16 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Yeah, I came here also to ask why Madhur Jaffrey isn't supposed to know about caramelized onions. Her recipe for mujaddarah in World Vegetarian is what taught me about caramelizing when I was just learning to cook."

Which is weird, because two weeks ago I was making a recipe from the same book — the zucchini penne with mint and basil — which calls for a five minute caramelization. It took the onions about 45 minutes, which threw off my timing for the water boil for the pasta, and I was annoyed. Then this article started making the rounds, and I was like, "I know, right? What the hell, Madhur?"
posted by klangklangston at 11:17 AM on May 7, 2012


99 comments and no one has mentioned caramelized leeks?

If your onion's raw, I feel bad for you, son.
I got 99 comments but a leek ain't one.
posted by zippy at 11:18 AM on May 7, 2012 [26 favorites]


This kind of thread should be hidden until at least noon PST, I should not be craving French onion soup this early in the morning.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:18 AM on May 7, 2012


By the way, the penne with zucchini, caramelized onions, mint and basil is fucking fantastic. It might have been even better if I'd happened to have any of the homemade stock that Jaffrey calls for to deglaze the onions, but instead I used a mix of water and the crazy vegetarian stir fry sauce from the Asian grocery, and it was still fantastic.

(Like I do with new to me recipes, the first time I made it all according to her plans — except, you know, the 45 minute onions — but really, it's the sort of that that anyone should be able to make based on just seeing those ingredients. It's super simple and crazy delicious.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:21 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've linked to this Tigers and Strawberries post on browning onions a couple of times.

Yes, nebulawindphone, that's it! The level of detail is completely obsessive, which is probably why I remembered it, especially this part:

Stir, and stir, and stir, until you feel like your arm is going to fall off and your mind is going to go numb from boredom. And then, stir some more, because this is the key to getting the onions to release their water quickly and evenly, and it is essential to cooking your onions without burning them.

Thanks so much; I've been looking for that for months.
posted by mediareport at 11:22 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


At some time in my life I'll have to get off my ass and cook.

Until then, there is the power of cereal.
posted by stormpooper at 11:26 AM on May 7, 2012


While we're on onions, is la genovese known at all, outside of Naples/Campania? A near-ideal (sumptuous-yet-cheap) almost-all-onion preparation - use it for a pasta starter AND a lovely veal main course....

(My two cents on "browning" onions? When done with butter, it's the butter that browns quickly - also delicious, but not caramel. When done in (not a lot of) oil, depending on the pan and level of heat, you can get the onions beyond their glazed state to show initial signs of singeing - also tasty, but still more burnt than caramelized.)
posted by progosk at 11:46 AM on May 7, 2012


(on preview, it's the original that jaimystery's pasta recipe is riffing on.)
posted by progosk at 11:51 AM on May 7, 2012


I've always wondered about this. I used to frustrate the hell out of myself trying to caramelize onions quickly, and I always assumed there was some secret method that chefs never told anyone. Seems like the answer is caramelize in bulk, which makes sense.

I love caramelizing onions, because I put them on, open a beer, and fire up netflix on the iPad. I've watched two seasons of Futurama that way.
posted by Huck500 at 12:03 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


jaimystery: we used sour cream the second time we made it - cheaper & easier to find than creme fraiche, tasted just as good.

The reason creme fraiche is usually specified in these sorts of recipes is that sour cream has a tendency to break when cooked, creme fraiche doesn't. You can usually avoid breaking sour cream by adding a bit of hot liquid to it first and stirring it in to temper it before adding it to whatever you're cooking.
posted by mikesch at 12:04 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


On the topic of onions, someone gave me an urawaza book, and one of the tips was to put green onions in your nose to relieve sinus pressure and clogging.

Has anyone tried this? I think I might try it when I get home today.
posted by rebent at 12:31 PM on May 7, 2012


A week ago Sunday, I decided to make the french onion soup grilled cheese that was linked. I laughed at the recipe and the claim that it would take me 30-45 minutes to caramelize the onions to the proper state. It took 2 hours in our dutch oven to get the onions to be right. It was worth every minute.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 12:38 PM on May 7, 2012


There are lies, damn lies and the estimated active cooking time in food magazine.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:41 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Onions caramelized in rendered bacon fat is the stuff of gods. It makes cleaning up the kitchen on a Sunday morning totally worth it, because by the time you're done you can make an omelet, then lay down on the couch for an afternoon nap.
posted by Karmeliet at 1:13 PM on May 7, 2012


Metafilter: covered in two pounds of under cooked onions and bad BBQ sauce.
posted by owtytrof at 1:15 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Upping the game:

The next time you make a pot roast, peel 6-8 shallots. In a heated dutch oven brown the shallots whole in olive oil or butter until the outside has caramelized and taken on a bit of char. Remove, and brown your root vegetables. Remove those, and brown your roast. Deglaze the pan, and return the roast, whole shallots, and vegetables, along with your aromatics. Cook as normal.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:31 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


"we used sour cream the second time we made it - cheaper & easier to find than creme fraiche, tasted just as good."

I tend to substitute greek yogurt for either fraiche or sour cream. I like the tangy flavor, and think that it holds up pretty well.
posted by klangklangston at 2:02 PM on May 7, 2012


Caramelizing onions can be greatly accelerated with the addition of baking soda, up to 1/4 tsp per pound with no ill effect on flavor.

Not worth it. Just a little too much baking soda and you end up with gross yellow soup. If you're going to cook onions down into something delicious, take your time to do it right.
posted by peeedro at 2:15 PM on May 7, 2012


I don't have much time to make dinner tonight, which is normally no big whoop, but now I am kind of peeved.

Because carmelized onions and goat cheese are omnomnomnomnom droooooool
posted by louche mustachio at 2:17 PM on May 7, 2012


Uh, it has never taken me 45 minutes to get delicious and flavorful onions. 15-20 minutes, tops. And no, they're not charred. There is also a thing that takes about 5 minutes to do whereby the onions become soft and translucent yet still taste mostly like fresh onions, just with less of a bite.
posted by wierdo at 2:28 PM on May 7, 2012


At 15-20 minutes, they are delicious. But they are not the same delicious as 45-60 minute onions. Try it sometime! Use many onions. Many.
posted by rtha at 3:04 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


That baking soda trick from the top of the thread totally works, as I can now personally attest. I am sitting here with a nice bowl of egg noodles coated in a cream sauce with caramelized onions plus some basil, dill, and oregano from my herb garden. And a nice frothy NOLA Blonde on the side. Delicious, took maybe 20 minutes to make start to finish.
posted by Scientist at 3:23 PM on May 7, 2012


You have to caramelize carefully or else the vowels fall out and drop to the bottom of the thread

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
posted by ook at 3:29 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


(And yes, I mean sweet, dark-brown, sticky caramelized onions. The baking soda turned everything a somewhat alarming shade of yellow for a while, but it all came good in the end.)
posted by Scientist at 3:36 PM on May 7, 2012


Okay, I'm iPhone reading, so forgive of somebody already posted the Stella Culinary Rebuttal. He pretty much laughs the slate writer off the stage. And try the braised chicken thigh recipe while you're there. Holy fuck that's a staple food in my house now!
posted by jstef at 4:00 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Onion, the apple of the earth, is able to emit such scents as women meeting their lovers do. Hot bacon dripping, the lover of the onion, keeps asking sizzlingly from the top of the stove: why was I born? The onion, then, passionately explains everything."

--Gyula Krúdy, as quoted in George Lang's "The Cuisine of Hungary"
posted by gimonca at 4:27 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Wow, that rebuttal just won me over to this guy's website. Damn, guy. Now I'm gonna have to caramelize onions all over again.
posted by Scientist at 4:29 PM on May 7, 2012


My favorite onion dip recipe from the food blog Foie Gras Hot Dog prescribes FIVE HOURS to caramelize 8 onions for the recipe, and I can confirm that it is CORRECT and PERFECT and also there is no length of Silkworm Shower that will ever get the delicious smell off of your clothes.
posted by apranica at 4:36 PM on May 7, 2012



Okay, I'm iPhone reading, so forgive of somebody already posted the Stella Culinary Rebuttal. He pretty much laughs the slate writer off the stage.


Wow, I sure hope he got past beating the audience over the head with sarcasm sometime after I got fed up and turned that video off.

So, from the three minutes I was able to stand I suspect that his end result is just onions sauteed in brown butter (which shockingly, would make the onions a dark brown) that get a little flavor boost because of the added sugar. In other words, something's being caramelized (and Mallardized), but it sure ain't the onions.

If someone with a stronger stomach for cloyingly sarcastic videos would confirm this, I'd sure appreciate it.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:38 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


He uses high heat the whole way through, speeds it up at the beginning by lidding the pan to steam the onions some, and deglazes a couple of times with warm water to pick up the fond (a word I just learned) from the bottom of the pan. Here's a link to the onions coming onto the plate: right at the 12:10 mark of the video. They look pretty caramelized to me. He then goes on for a while about why he's annoyed that this Slate article is getting so much press, which to me is actually the most interesting part of the video.
posted by Scientist at 4:50 PM on May 7, 2012


Yeah. He's an acquired taste. The podcast is legit foodie nirvana though. And I'm serious about that chicken thy recipe... Oh what the hell-- the RSI IM MY THUMBS IS YOUR FAULT
posted by jstef at 4:52 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's an acquired taste.

I guess I'll have to live with the idea that I don't really like the mouth-feel of sarcastic asshole.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 4:52 PM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


He uses high heat the whole way through, speeds it up at the beginning by lidding the pan to steam the onions some, and deglazes a couple of times with warm water to pick up the fond (a word I just learned) from the bottom of the pan.

Well, if the pan's wet the whole time, then I'm right. He doesn't have caramelized onions. A big part of the flavor from caramelized onions come from the Maillard reaction, and the Maillard reaction requires dry conditions. That's part of why you have to space out meat in a pan when you sear it.

So yes, you can get something yummy that looks like caramelized onions in under 10 min, but you'll be missing a good chunk of the flavor. Which is the point.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:02 PM on May 7, 2012


Nah, it's not wet the whole time. Just at the beginning to help spread the heat around and then briefly a couple of times when he's deglazing.

Look, OK. I have an onion here, I am going to give this a try. I'll report back in a little while and tell y'all whether the onions are caramelized or just brown.
posted by Scientist at 5:04 PM on May 7, 2012


And try the braised chicken thigh recipe while you're there.

I would if I could find the aforementioned recipe. (a little help?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:12 PM on May 7, 2012


OK, ten minutes in, onions are white, brown, and black. I am thinking that the difference here is that my oven doesn't put out nearly the kind of flame that the commercial one in the video does. I will take these to completion, but so far I haven't been able to develop fond at all, let alone deglaze it.
posted by Scientist at 5:18 PM on May 7, 2012


Onions are like the fudge of the bulb world. Never take your eyes off a cooking onion.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:25 PM on May 7, 2012


The Stella video makes some good points. Yeah, a non-stick pan is not the way to go, and deglazing with a little water is one way to make the fond embrace the onions (as Strawberries and Tigers already told us).

But on the other hand, Jacob's attempt to catch Alton Brown in a contradiction is weak: Brown said it would take about 20 minutes to get brown onions, not caramelized onions. And Jacob's onions at the end of the video look wet, even stewed, not caramelized. They may still taste good, but I won't know until I try it myself.

This guy may have provided proof that you can caramelize onions in ten minutes. But he may also have proved his claim that a Douche button would be an excellent addition to the Internet. I'll still look at the site and the recipes because, hey, even assholes can have something useful to say. I just have to figure out why this video has me rolling my eyes. Maybe it's the disembodied voice versus, say, putting his face on camera. Or maybe it was the frat-boy sarcasm and heavy-handed jokes. You don't have to be polite to be right -- I have great affection for sarcastic know-it-alls -- but not whiny, barely-funny, frat boy assholes dispensing the same arguments. (Yeah. "Tone". I know.)

On preview: EC, here's the braised chicken recipe (from jstef's last comment). This looks awesome and I'm definitely going to try it.

And Scientist, note that the chicken thigh recipe is cooked on an electric stovetop, while the onions are done on a commercial gas cooker. I think his technique depends on massive BTUs and can't be easily replicated on home equipment, or maybe it can't be replicated at all. See also: home stir fry versus restaurant stir fry.

So whether or not Scocca stated this explicitly, I think this is the core of his argument: the home cook has limited equipment and limited background knowledge. Someone using typical recipes on home equipment wouldn't get the results promised in the books based on the descriptions they give. FFS, I have and love Jaffrey's book, and use her Rogan Josh technique as the basis for my various bastard curries, but I had to learn to cook my onions a lot longer to get a deep flavour.
posted by maudlin at 5:28 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, well that didn't work. The onions are now caramelized, but they're also a bit burned. Also, they aren't evenly caramelized, I think that a lot of what caramelized was indeed the butter and sugar. I was eventually able to build up a fond but not without scorching the onions a little in the process. Also it took 20 minutes rather than 10. Around minute 15 I realized I had two choices: either keep trying to build a fond to deglaze, or start moving the onions a lot more and cook them for a lot longer. In the end I cheated, turned the heat down to medium-low, threw on a dash of baking soda, and carried it to completion.

The end result is a qualified success. The method didn't work though, at least not on my stove. I did use a heavy stainless steel skillet, I didn't overload it, and I followed his instructions exactly up until things started to go badly wrong.
posted by Scientist at 5:33 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maudlin: I'm sure you're right. My stove is indeed pretty anemic even for a household stove. I'm in the process of moving into a new place that has, among other things, a much better stove.
posted by Scientist at 5:35 PM on May 7, 2012


Ideally, this would happen on a lazy autumn afternoon. You would slowly caramelize 5 to 10 pounds of onions. When they are done, you would place the resulting, cooled "jam" in logs of plastic wrap to be further encased in "tin" foil and freeze for use throughout the year.
posted by Morrigan at 5:37 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Caramaziled carrot soup is amazing, (via recent FPP about pressure cookers).

Yes, excellent.

"When's dinner?"

"In nine hours from now."

"Hmm. What is it?"

"Centrifuged carrot sludge."

"Oh."
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:38 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Okay, I swear I'm not stupid, but I cannot for the life of me find my way to the main recipes menu on that page from the home page. What am I doing wrong?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:38 PM on May 7, 2012


tumid dahlia: LOL. I made it on Saturday, one hour twenty. Skipping the centrifuge, carotteen butter and ajowan seed. Which is a lot better than the two and a half hour first attempt two weeks ago.
posted by ecco at 5:43 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, I swear I'm not stupid, but I cannot for the life of me find my way to the main recipes menu on that page from the home page. What am I doing wrong?

Nothing. They suck at information architecture, that's all.

Go to any recipe listed in the sidebar (where the Recipes category isn't linked to anything, nor does an appropriate link show at the top or bottom of any content page), then look at the breadcrumbs at the top. Click on Recipes and you'll get to the Recipes Menu page. Once you click on one of the options in the first list, you tet some very useful indexes.
posted by maudlin at 5:43 PM on May 7, 2012


tet=get. I blame the sarcasm overload.
posted by maudlin at 5:44 PM on May 7, 2012


Marinate a coupla chicken breasts between 6 hours and overnight in:
lime juice to cover


That does sound delicious Greg, but where is one getting all of this lime juice? Enough lime juice to cover two chicken breasts? Who's squeezing all those limes? Wh-...what...
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:45 PM on May 7, 2012


Honestly this wouldn't bug me so much if the guy wasn't so condescending about someone he disagrees with about a process he doesn't understand himself.

So, watching it with the sound off:

The first deglazing is at about 6:50, the lid comes off at 6:05, so maybe 45 seconds of dry. Looks like steam going till the very end.

If there's steam there's probably no Maillard, because as the Wikipedia article says "High temperature, intermediate moisture levels, and alkaline conditions all promote the Maillard reaction.[4] In cooking, low moisture levels are necessary mainly because water boils into steam at 100 °C (212 °F), whereas the Maillard reaction happens noticeably around 154 °C (309 °F): significant browning of food does not occur until all surface water is vaporized."

So here's my best guess at how the recipe works (based on scores of cookbooks the science of cooking variety): the browned butter and the sugar contribute caramel flavors and colors. The salt draws out the moisture which is important for the step where he covers the pan. A wet environment (which is what he creates by covering the pan, preventing the moisture from escaping) keeps the onions from burning while they cook on high heat, because water can only get so hot. It also adds another way for them to heat up, they get the heat from the steam as well as from the pan (if it was uncovered a good chunk of that heat would escape) He then lets this moisture cook off, and then adds more to deglaze the pan. This does two things, it re-regulates the temperature, and it gets the fond (which is where a bunch of the flavors and colors from the butter, sugar, and the sugar that came out of the onion when the salt drew out the moisture) off the pan and onto the food. As that water evaporates all the yummy from the fond gets left on the onions. So you have brown, cooked onions with some flavors similar to what you get if you actually took the time to "Caramelize" them.

Oh, you also break down a few of the harsher flavors from onions, but that just happens when you cook onions.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:52 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I just made them a la Stella for some tacos (heh), and they're a close, but not exact replica. They have a lot of the flavor but not as sweet. It's really hard not to burn them and most of the flavor is surely from the fond that I was deglazing over and over, but it's hard to not get the burnt onion bitterness. Because of my culinary laziness, I'll probably end up doing this more often than I should.

Speaking of fond, have you ever wanted to make the best French onion soup evar?. If you can get behind the Cook's Illustrated paywall, search for the real recipe. And don't cheap out on the gruyere.
posted by jstef at 6:18 PM on May 7, 2012


rtha: "At 15-20 minutes, they are delicious. But they are not the same delicious as 45-60 minute onions. Try it sometime! Use many onions. Many."

That would burn them. By the time I stop they're dark brown and almost sickly sweet. It may be that I use butter rather than oil or something. I don't really know. That said, for most things I just sweat the onions, because I like the flavor very much and don't want them to get very sweet for most of the things I cook.

Also, if you would like delicious split pea soup, all one must do is purchase a can of Campbell's split pea with ham and bacon soup, dump it in a Blendtec, add a can of water, and hit the soup cycle twice. You will die within 12 hours from eating so much salt, but it may be worth it.
posted by wierdo at 6:29 PM on May 7, 2012


Re: baking soda, I have actually been experimenting with this in the weeks since that pressure cooker thread. I can confirm that lots of baking soda results in a sludge, I can also confirm that if you continue cooking sludge eventually evaporates and deliciousness ensues.

You can reduce amount of sludge by being very ginger with the soda. This lengthens the cooking time somewhat but it's still drastically reduced. 1/4 of a tsp will do for 4 medium to large onions if you're being ginger. 1/2 tsp for generous. Any more and you will just have onion goop.
posted by smoke at 7:11 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite caramelized onion recipe (besides using it as a pizza topping with roasted butternut squash chunks):
-caramelize a crapton of onions
-throw them in a Cuisinart with a big scoop of sour cream, a splash of buttermilk, and a pinch of salt
-pulse until it reaches a texture you like
-spread on homemade bread and eat about five slices of it while getting the dip all over your shirt on accident (this last bit appears to be a crucial step for me)
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:11 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Caramelized onions are also the base for Ethiopian (Eritrean, Somali) Wot sauces. It takes about 3-4 minced onions per serving, and usually about an hour to cook them to a sweet red-brown paste using nothing but the onions and water, no oils at all. The Niter Kibbeh spiced butter (or oil, for kosher cooking) will add more than enough fat later. Then add chicken drumsticks marinated in lemon juice and water, and whole hard-boiled eggs and perhaps a little chicken stock or water. Or perhaps cubes of BBQ lamb or beef, or cubes of gluten or tofu sauteed in Niter Kibbeh. When the meat is cooked, the Wot is ready. Bring on your teff Injera and dig in with some fizzy 3 or 5-day home made T'ej mead to wash it all down.

I once made Ethiopian lunch for 150. 75 lbs of onions cooked down to just 2 hotel pans, taking 4 hours in a convection oven to do so. Next time I'll go for a pound of trimmed onions per person, about 200 lbs for 150 people!
posted by Dreidl at 8:17 PM on May 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


That would burn them. By the time I stop they're dark brown and almost sickly sweet.

I dunno what to tell you. I have not burned onions with 45 minutes of cooking. I know the difference between burned and not burned.
posted by rtha at 8:46 PM on May 7, 2012


> Just buy Vidalia onions and sautee them on low heat until they're soft. Won't taste the same, it'll taste better.

That's sweating, not sauteeing. There's no such thing as sauteing on low heat.
posted by desuetude at 9:09 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I think the joke is the rogan josh is a Kashmiri dish, or at least it is in this town, and Kashmiri != Indian.
No joke, it's not even Kashmiri


You can fault her for including rogan josh in a book called Indian Cooking if you like, but given the prevalence of caramelized onions in many Indian cuisines, I think she's qualified on that bit.
posted by desuetude at 9:14 PM on May 7, 2012


Man, the rebuttal video made me want to poke his eyes out with a skewer and squeeze in some fresh onion juice - clearly I don't have the acquired taste to sit through it with the sound on. So yeah, it sort of works, but given that I don't (1) have a commercial range and (2) don't feel like adding extra sugar to onions, I'll stick with my 30 minute cooking that leaves them a mahogany-coloured pile of deliciously fragrant goop. Oh, and what kind of weird pervert caramelizes a SINGLE onion, FFS? Burn the heretic!
posted by ninazer0 at 11:41 PM on May 7, 2012


Skimmed most of this, because I'm exhausted, but what the hell is with this baking soda thing? I've been cooking in upscale to fine dining restaurants for years, and I've never heard of adding anything but patience. I've seen someone get fired for adding sugar to speed it up. Just be patient.
posted by bryanthecook at 12:54 AM on May 8, 2012


If we're trading caramelised onion recipes, I give you Nigel Slater's sweet onions with lentil stew, which looks exactly like it was scooped out of the bottom of a swamp, but tastes sensational.
posted by penguin pie at 1:09 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those in the UK: Morrisons do sacks of onions for not very much at all (£4?). I restock every couple of months, and spend the first week or so making french onion soup and curry base sauce (the last batch of which is going in the compost, tried 'The Curry Secret' recipe, in which you just boil them, that secret they can keep) to get the numbers down.

Onion sets (from Homebase, B&Q, etc.) are also selling very cheap now as it's the end of the planting season, I predict my pots of Tree-Lily-Guarded-by-a -Ring-of-onions will be the envy of all the neighbours.
posted by titus-g at 4:49 AM on May 8, 2012


Metafilter: exactly like it was scooped out of the bottom of a swamp
posted by zippy at 7:46 AM on May 8, 2012


Skimmed most of this, because I'm exhausted, but what the hell is with this baking soda thing?

The Maillard reaction happens faster at more basic pH levels.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:33 AM on May 8, 2012


bryanthecook: In a restaurant, everybody is cooking or ready to cook at all times, so there's no reason other than poor planning to not budget the time to caramelize onions. In my house, I often have 20 minutes start to finish to get dinner on the table in between all the other crap that I have to do that day, so something that lets me get caramelized onions in 10 minutes, even with a little cheating, is fucking gold.

For what it's worth, I think the baking soda trick is a better cheat than adding sugar. With baking soda you are still caramelizing the onions, you're just turbocharging the chemical reaction. I'm sure it doesn't come out quite the same as if you do it properly, but it's still caramelized onions. With sugar, you're caramelizing the sugar which means that you have a nice brown color and some sweet caramely flavor, but also the onions aren't as soft and you still have more of the sharper oniony flavors than if you had caramelized it properly. You basically have sweated onions in caramelized sugar.

Anyway, the baking soda trick is a good trick for the home though I agree it probably has no place in a restaurant's kitchen.
posted by Scientist at 9:35 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Onions are a key staple of the Indian diet , especially for the poor - high onion prices can even determine elections in India
This is at once correct and incorrect. Some Hindu denominations proscribe onions - really, all of the allium family, including garlic and shallots - on the belief that consuming them overheats human passions in an unhealthy way.
My understanding is that some Brahmin communities avoid onions (though only some; and anyway, Brahmins make up maybe 5% of the total population) and that there are religious orders whose devotees avoid onions as a devotional practice. But as I understand it, the vast majority of Hindu laypeople in India do indeed eat onions — and in some places, eat quite a lot of them.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:24 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gygesringtone, that makes sense. Now to bust out McGee and see what he says on the matter.

Scientist, I can see that. I'd heard about this recently from someone else too, and it puzzled me. I guess that for a home cook it makes sense, if it actually works and doesn't have a detrimental effect on the flavor and texture.
posted by bryanthecook at 1:08 PM on May 8, 2012


You can bake an onion by cutting off the top, peeling, and cutting off the woody/root-y bit of the bottom. Wrap in foil, adding a generous pat of butter on the top. This can be done on/near a wood fire if you are camping, and will make other campers jealous, because it smells so good. Bake for an hour or so. tender, delish, sweet. Or peel, cut in quarters and roast with some olive oil, salt & pepper, again for about an hour, turning occasionally. The very crispy bits are very tasty.

Vidalia and very fresh onions have quite a bit of moisture, and will need more time to cook, if covered, they'll need the lid removed from time to time.

If you ever have leftover creamed onions, they are a fabulous soup base.
posted by theora55 at 2:54 PM on May 8, 2012


Caramelize != carmelize

Caramelize = cook food so that sugars convert to caramel

Carmelize = make resemble a town in California that Clint Eastwood was once mayor of.
posted by QuietDesperation at 4:44 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's a Carmelite monastery in Santa Fe. I wonder if they like onions there.
posted by koeselitz at 9:52 PM on May 8, 2012


Well, someone at Chow reads Metafilter...
posted by schmod at 10:39 PM on May 8, 2012


No, but they rock out to Carmel Chameleon alot.
posted by XMLicious at 10:39 PM on May 8, 2012


Damn you schmod!
posted by XMLicious at 10:39 PM on May 8, 2012


Baking soda makes for delicious flavor, but a different (more mushy) texture. I got to use extra caramelized onions as a base for a pasta sauce because company was late tonight (so I kept cooking the onions for an extra half hour), even though I tried to speed them with baking soda. I coulda called them earlier with no problem, maybe half an hour cook time rather than 45.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 AM on May 9, 2012


Just been to Asda where I bought 3 kilos of onions for -- wait for it -- 10p!

Gonna put the old jumbo-sized La Cruset to work on something other than sourdough bread this weekend.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:51 AM on May 10, 2012


A response.

Anyone still in here? Cheers.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:53 AM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyone still in here? Cheers.

Not only am I still here, but this post inspired me to make a batch of Alton Brown's French onion soup last night. It was delicious!

I spent an hour carmelizng the onions.
posted by TedW at 9:15 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone still in here? Cheers.

Yup....still here and saw the deleted link post which drew me here.

I just bought onions yesterday and gonna sacrifice a few for science. I like this 10 minute method and saving the frond!

Thanks!
posted by lampshade at 10:21 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Favorited, watched, and I'll give it a shot Stagger Lee. Nice find!
posted by bswinburn at 10:39 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Notice this guy's already annoying voice lapses into a cartoon mexican accent as he mocks Scocca.
posted by romines at 11:49 AM on May 10, 2012


That's... not even close to a Mexican accent.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:09 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know what I am gonna do this weekend? I am going to slice a whole Costco bag of onions extra-thin in my food processor, stick them in the crockpot with a stick of butter, caramelize them down, and then freeze them in ice cube trays. Pop them out of the trays, keep the cubes in a baggie, and then I'll have a moderate quantity of caramelized onions available any time I want them. I am a super genius!
posted by KathrynT at 4:39 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, the guy who made that response video is a blowhard. I can't even watch it all the way through.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:49 PM on May 11, 2012


AskMe: "You made my house smell like (delicious, delicious) onions! Now please help me make it stop"...
posted by ecco at 3:35 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. I've seen MeTa callouts before. I don't think I've ever seen an AskMe callout.

Pony request: Can we please, as a community, stop making my house smell like onions?
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:48 AM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, I tried the 10 minute method just now. Even with my limited culinary skills and lack of the proper pan, the onion carmelized just fine.

I ran the video at the same time and matched everything in there. Aside from the weird quasi-mexican accent, it worked just fine.
posted by lampshade at 7:31 PM on May 12, 2012


I made up a batch last night, using a heaping frying pan full of sliced onions that reduced to a cup of sweet brown umami in 90 minutes. (I was multi-tasking other bits and pieces for supper, so I was cautious with the heat.) Supper was made from sliced no-knead bread, a smear of garlic butter, a generous schmear of onions, flash-fried pork and red peppers with cumin, heat and lime, plus a generous handful of sharp cheddar, all put under the broiler. I stir-fried, then dry-roasted to a bit of char, a head of broccoli in the onion pan, re-using the fond. It was good.

I still have most of a 10 pound bag of onions left and it's getting warm, so I'll finish the rest in the crockpot, freeze what I don't need, and figure out how to adapt my berry muffin recipe to use onions. I think I'll just substitute a cup of caramelized onions for a cup of berries, and instead of using lemon zest and vanilla to balance the flavour, I'll add cinnamon, nutmeg and a little bit of ground cloves. If I use half onions and half cooked cranberries, the vanilla and lemon zest should work.
posted by maudlin at 9:44 AM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


maudlin, sounds to me like that muffin recipe will need extensive testing. I hereby volunteer to be a test subject.
posted by rtha at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2012


they're also great on hot dogs and in grilled cheese sandwiches. oh I just found this caramelized onion/bacon/cheddar deviled eggs recipe and am dying to make it.

I drunkenly made these at like 2 AM last night and they were FUCKING SUBLIME. I just had one now, stone-cold sober, and I can report that with all my faculties intact, they are still incredibly good. My only change was that I added some paprika and cayenne for spiciness. Thanks for sharing this recipe!
posted by Greg Nog at 1:48 PM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


rtha, I promise to post the recipe if it works out. I did just use my berry muffin recipe, but I adapted it to use some kiwis that never ripened properly and some homemade yogurt that was a little grainy and over-tart. More muffins later this week!

Greg Nog, did you actually caramelize the onions, or just cook them for the five (!!!) minutes called for in the recipe? I mean, the recipe sounds great even with near raw onions, but I am wondering.
posted by maudlin at 2:06 PM on May 13, 2012


No, I'd caramelized four huge onions earlier in the day, and put 'em in tupperware in the fridge, to be used a bit at a time as I try out various recipes in this thread. They're a gorgeous deep brown and delicious as hell!
posted by Greg Nog at 4:28 PM on May 13, 2012


I tried the ten-minute method in cast iron on an electric stove. The onions aren't bad but when put in a wrap with marinated tofu, fresh yoghurt, and sharp cheddar cheese (I hadn't really planned what meal to make and just grabbed stuff on hand) they definitely faded into the background.

And I set off the smoke detector at about minute 9. Oops.
posted by jepler at 5:54 PM on May 14, 2012


So I threw some onions with half a stick of butter (I don't know, I was sleepy) in a crock on high for an hour and at the end of the hour they were smelly yummy (white and yellow ones). But they were also older (starting to sprout). Kind of cookedish but not carmelized.


Poured on soaked pintos and water and roasted (commercial) garlic - no appreciable difference between making beans with raw onions.

Need to cook for longer, maybe low overnight, before adding beans.
posted by tilde at 8:18 AM on May 16, 2012


I have a crockpot full of onions. They are on their 17th hour on high and not yet what I would call "caramelized". This crockpot seems to cook everything at typical speeds based on other recipes I have used over the last decade.
I think it may require another 2 to 5 hours to dry out and finish caramelizing.
I'm not in a hurry.

I did manage to stink up my neighborhood though! Take that people whose dogs crap on my driveway!
posted by Seamus at 8:10 PM on May 22, 2012


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