Caramelizing Onions, Step-by-Step Article -
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frying pan, sautoir, sliced onion

How to Caramelize Onions, Step-by-Step

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.

                        Jul. 16, 2009 12:15 pm
                        added a tb of pancake syrup, stirred, and removed from heat. Delicious.
                        Nov. 11, 2009 3:50 am
                        How do I add this to my receipe box for future reference?
                        Dec. 4, 2009 10:12 am
                        How long does this process take?
                        Jan. 6, 2010 3:01 pm
                        What do you do if the onions are not turning brown, but you've followed all of the steps?
                        Mar. 7, 2010 3:00 pm
                        @ MagPoe: Use a butter as the oil, it makes it taste a little bit better in my opinion, also try turning up your heat to around the "5" mark if you are not using an open flame, and just stir it ocasionally, turn up the heat a tad if necessary. stir until they become a dark brown, but not black.
                        Mar. 16, 2010 7:38 pm
                        mag, that means you are stirring to much
                        May 30, 2010 7:26 pm
                        For the best taste, I feel you must use butter. It does burn if used alone so I use a combination of vegetable oil and butter (or EVOO and butter if cooking sausage, etc.) If your onions aren't browning as much as you like, turn the heat up a little. In a pinch I have covered the pan so onions would cook quicker but not brown too much. You need to keep an eye on them and stir frequently if your heat is fairly high.
                        May 31, 2010 9:15 pm
                        I like to use olive oil...and I have to distract myself by doing some other prep, or wash a few dishes? It's the only way I can keep from fussing with them too much!
                        Jun. 8, 2010 1:16 pm
                        MAGPOE---In my experince you should not stir consitantilly like it keeps saying. LET them sit and they will turn brown for you. Just make sure to watch that they do not stick to much. Also can wait to try Maple Syrup! Thanks James!
                        Jun. 28, 2010 9:05 am
                        Deglazed mine with red wine. Mixing them with goat cheese, red pepper & egg mix to fill small tarts for a party. First time recipe & looking forward to the finished product.
                        Jun. 30, 2010 3:50 pm
                        This recipe doesn't turn out as well as others, the trick is to put onions in a large skillet over a medium heat with no oil until it is dry and almost sticking to the pan, about 20 mins, then add a little oil and salt, cook stirring occasionally for 40 mins. If you want it sweeter add some sugar with the oil.Taste and season.
                        Jul. 13, 2010 10:04 am
                        I always caramelize my onions in water. I feel this is a healthier way and there is no added fat. I pour about a cup of water into a large skillet. Then add a couple of large vidalia onions which I have sliced thinly on a mandoline. I also find I have to "babysit" the onions to keep from sticking and burning. Please note. This is a timely process--it does not take five or ten minutes. I also lower the head to medium low after about ten minutes after cooking on high. I find that the more they carmelize, the more like a "jelly" or "marmalade" or "confit" they become.
                        Sep. 19, 2010 6:21 am
                        I enjoy most all the recipes I've created a recipe box and am adding more each time I see a recipe I feel would be delicious. I made the carmalized onions they are outstanding and delicious. Thanks for sharing all your recipes with me. Clarice
                        Sep. 25, 2010 12:44 pm
                        couldn't find the "Add to recipe box" to click and save ...also couldn't print out recipe...Carmalized Onions
                        Sep. 27, 2010 8:44 am
                        The Joy of Cooking has a recipe for caramelized onions that has always worked well for me. It's not fast - it can take about an hour, but you can cook down a mound of onions in a large skillet to enough caramelized to enhance many, many meals. If you're in the kitchen doing things anyway, it really isn't that difficult - it just takes time and periodic attention. Start with thinly sliced onions. I prefer regular yellow onions - they have plenty of sugar. Add them to a pan with a 50/50 mix of olive oil and unsalted butter - quantities depend on the amount you're cooking. On Saturday I cooked five baseball to croquet ball sized onions, sliced very thinly, in 2 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter and 2 Tablespoons olive oil. You should start on low heat (the lowest setting you have where the burner is on continuously) and stir/turn over periodically until the onions begin to wilt. Continue stirring and turning over periodically over low heat and after about 30 minutes or so the
                        Nov. 21, 2010 12:24 pm
                        Good solid recipe... a foodaphile friend from Boston tells me the dish isn't authenticated until a spritz of vinegar is added. Mmm!
                        Jan. 8, 2011 8:05 pm
                        Jan. 14, 2011 4:00 pm
                        Very Helpful
                        Aura Diamond 
                        Feb. 19, 2011 10:06 am
                        Onions will not brown if you use a nonstick skillet. For best browning results use a cast iron skillet.
                        Mar. 1, 2011 3:39 pm
                        I make them in the slow cooker - no chance of burning and you can make tons at one time! Here's my recipe:
                        Apr. 13, 2011 2:28 pm
                        add a bit of balsamic vinegar to caramalize faster then not so time consuming
                        Apr. 15, 2011 11:07 pm
                        Does anyone know if there is a way to jar or can carmelized onions... I created a recipe for sweet tea bourban onions and everyone always asks for them... It would be nice to have them on hand...
                        Jun. 30, 2011 2:17 pm
                        Anybody know how to save this to the recipe box?
                        Jul. 10, 2011 1:34 pm
                        I make caramilized onions with almost everthing I grill on the bbq. I use cast iron pan and never rush. All ideas here are good but need a splash of Balsamic vinegar.
                        Jul. 12, 2011 4:22 pm
                        i just saw the recepie for 5 burgers, and it called for one med sized onion, caramilzed, the onion will shrink quite a bit, so plesase use more onion if making 5 turkey or chicken burgers, low and slow with a mix of olive oil small amout of butter, takes some time, with the low and slow but add a little beef stock if sticking, it is worth the wait, do not stir to much or mush you will make,
                        Jul. 12, 2011 4:27 pm
                        Nov. 12, 2011 12:53 pm
                        We throw in a few jalopenos in Oklahoma, and Texas.
                        Feb. 26, 2012 7:08 am
                        I have seen the question "how do I print this recipe for carmalizing onions and its comments" several times and no one has answered it. Please someone tell us how.
                        Mar. 7, 2012 10:53 pm
                        I found hard anodized (the real stuff) sauce pan with a lid works great for this task. I use the lid to cover the onions and when the onions start sticking to the bottom, I use a flat-tip wooden spatula (from Ikea) to scrap them. Few times I failed when I didn't use the lid because the onion got "dry" too fast. Next time I'll try wine!
                        May 2, 2012 7:41 am
                        You can't really print or save this recipe; this is just a how-to. You'll have to use the linked caramelized onion recipe to save a copy.
                        May 4, 2012 1:53 pm
                        Aura Diamond, incorrect. It is possible to caramelize onions in a non-stick skillet, I do it all the time. The trick is to keep the burner on med/low and spritz a little water into the pan if they start to burn. The water deglazes the pan and all that caramelly goodness ends up in your onions. Years of watching cheesesteaks being made with fried onions taught me that trick. For a little more flavor you can use vinegar or wine. Big Tony, keep trying! They are worth it!
                        Jul. 3, 2012 7:37 am
                        Make your own recipe box, copy, paste, then print!
                        Jul. 12, 2012 3:15 am
                        you can print the recipe and any comments you like by just using "copy" and "paste" into a word processing document and save it. that is what i just did. good recipe and lots of good tips!
                        Aug. 8, 2012 5:57 am
                        I start the onions in the microwave along with olive oil and spices. Nuke for 5-6 minutes, rest, stir, 5-6 more minutes. At this point, they should be quite soft. If so, transfer to a heated skillet to finish them. I find this saves time and attention.
                        Aug. 8, 2012 8:21 am
                        Caramelizing onions does take a while. I find it better to use medium to medium-low heat after putting the onions in the medium skillet. It may take 30-40 minutes depending on how many onions that you are doing. Take your time. The onions can be used in a lot of dishes; on hot dogs with kraut; as a base for french onion soup; mixed with fresh corn and sauteed...the list goes on and on. Just be patient; stir occasionally and they will turn a nice golden color. Too hot and the color will be the color of burned toast...ugh
                        Aug. 9, 2012 9:46 pm
                        i finally had some success with (balsamic) caramelized onions recently, I cooked on med-low until onions were translucent with some salt, then turned the heat up a bit and added balsamic. When the onions seemed to be drying out i deglazed the pan with a little beer, any kind will do, i think i used Sam Adams Boston Lager. I also added a bit more balsamic along the way, they turned out with a ton of flavor, although the blackish color from the balsamic might be offputting for some. Be careful with the salt, i used too much and they were a bit salty. This took a while but was awesome.
                        Aug. 25, 2012 2:49 pm
                        knowing that it's the sugars in the onion that carmelize it I pressed hard on them while cooking which left a pulpy, yummy pile I almost ate before putting it in my quesadilla w/cheddar cheese and bacon bits :)
                        Mar. 27, 2013 2:47 pm
                        I just made these and they were great! I used 2 Tablespoons of butter and 1 Tablespoon of sugar, and a little salt. I cooked them in a heavy skillet over medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes while I cooked other things. My family loved them!
                        May 17, 2013 11:24 am
                        adding the salt made all the difference
                        Jul. 7, 2013 6:57 pm
                        to add recipe you just click on the recipe you like and usually under the picture of the recipe is a plus sign that says recipe box just click it. you have to be logged in and if your not a member you have to sign up
                        Nov. 26, 2013 1:19 pm
                        what kind of wine is used ?
                        Oct. 6, 2014 9:32 am
                        For those who worry about butter burning while caramelizing onions, try Ghee which is a clarified butter and used in most Indian food recipes. I also like coconut fat, aka oil, it can be heated extremely high and it gives the onions a special flavor. Maple syrup is another sweetener for those who like it, add it at the end of the process. I usually use sherry or table wine for deglazing but balsamic vinegar is good too.
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