Tips and Techniques: Caramelizing Onions
To "caramelize" means simply to brown the sugars on a food's surface. While a sugar cooks, its flavor deepens. We can thank caramelization for much of the flavor found in cooking.
All animals and plants use simple carbohydrates to store energy. Each type of sugar (sucrose, fructose, lactose, etc.) caramelizes at a different temperature. While browning/caramelization can occur over higher heat, "low and slow" yields deeper, sweeter flavor. Caramelizing onions, in particular, brings out a richer, more intense flavor complementary to a wide spectrum of dishes. Any kind of onion can be caramelized, but some take longer than others depending on their sugar content.
The caramelizing process is foolproof and easy to incorporate into dishes. All you need is a little extra time. Try these simplified steps if you haven't already!
1) Slice onion.
2) Heat olive oil or mixture of olive and butter in a wide saute pan on medium-high heat.
3) Add onions and stir occasionally. After about 10 minutes, add a dash of salt to the pan and a splash of water if onions are drying out.
4) Cook at least another 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring every 2-3 minutes, but feel free to go longer. Once onions are totally limp, begin sticking to the pan, and take on a brown color, they have reached their full caramelized state. If you'd like, you may deglaze the pan at this point with wine or balsamic vinegar, or you can serve without deglazing. Either way, sweet, simple deliciousness awaits.