How to Caramelize Onions the Right Way
Can we make a suggestion? The next time you have a spare hour and are looking for a simple kitchen project, brown up a big batch of caramelized onions. While this is a relatively simple task, it does take time — typically 45 minutes to an hour — and requires frequent attention. So catch up on a favorite food podcast, or do the dishes during the downtime, and know that your efforts will be rewarded with a pile of glossy, robustly flavored onions that are sure to add spunk to meals throughout the week.
Slice Off the Tops and Bottoms
Start with at least three onions of the same type (any less seems not worth the effort, and these reheat well), whether it be yellow, white, or red. Cut off the tops and bottoms of the onions.
Slice the Onions
Cut each onion in half, and then slice into thin, half-moon slices. While it's not crucial that these are all exactly the same width, try to keep them somewhat even so that they will caramelize at the same rate.
Heat a teaspoon of neutral oil for each onion over medium-high heat in the bottom of a large skillet or dutch oven (use whatever cooking vessel has the largest surface area on the bottom). When the oil is just-shimmering, transfer the sliced onion to the skillet (we like to use a bench scraper to make this easier). Once you add the onions, toss them to coat with the oil and gently break up the onion slices.
Add a Pinch of Salt and Sugar
Keep cooking, stirring the onions occasionally and adjusting the heat (if necessary) to accomodate slow, even browning. After about 10 minutes, when the onions have started to sweat and have softened considerably, add a heaping 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar per onion.
Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions have shrunk considerably (they'll be about a quarter to a third of their original volume), have slumped into soft tendrils, and are a deep caramel-brown color. Take the pan off the heat, and season to taste with salt and a splash of balsamic vinegar, if you like.
Fully caramelized onions should be soft and deep-golden brown. Either use the onions immediately or keep them on hand to add deep flavor to dishes at a later date (they should keep in the refrigerator for at least a week). We utilize these robustly savory-sweet onions in quick french onion soup; to add interest to burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches; or on top of pasta and pizza, but their uses are nearly endless.