How to Caramelize Onions
Two ingredients and a skillet are all you need for caramelized onions. Sauteing onion slices slowly in butter until tender brings out their natural sugar, creating an irresistible combination of savory and sweet.
Caramelized onions add a scrumptious sweetness to many dishes, dips, and sauces, but you may wonder just what caramelizing is. All vegetables and fruits contain natural sugars. When heated, these sugars brown and caramelize, becoming more intense in flavor. Onions are great candidates for caramelizing because they contain plenty of natural sugars. Onions can be caramelized by cooking them slowly in oil. Or they can be caramelized using a little sugar.
Prep the Onions
The best onions to use for caramelizing are sweet onions, since they tend to be juicy with a mild, sweet taste. Some popular sweet varieties include Maui, Vidalia, and Walla Walla onions. For four to six 1/3-cup servings, start with two large onions and peel away and discard the outer papery layers. Slice the onions into thin slices or cut into 3/4-inch chunks.
Melt the Butter
Butter offers the richest flavor, but you can caramelize onions in other fat such as margarine or olive oil. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium low heat.
Add the Onions
Add the onion slices, overlapping somewhat. If the skillet gets too full, consider using two skillets for more even cooking.
Cook, covered, over medium low heat for 13 to 15 minutes or until onion slices are tender, stirring occasionally. This slow cooking step allows the onions to release their juices and become uniformly soft.
Finish Caramelizing the Onions
Once the onions are tender, turn up the heat to medium-high and uncover the skillet. The extra heat will help to caramelize the onion juices in the butter, giving the onions the desired caramel color and flavor. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden.
How to Use Caramelized Onions
The possibilities are many for enjoying caramelized onions, although you may be tempted to eat them right out of the skillet.
- Spoon the onions atop burgers, steaks, pork chops, or cooked butternut squash slices.
- For appetizers, top a warmed wheel of Brie cheese or bruschetta slices with caramelized onions.
- Garnish soup or pasta dishes with the onions.
- Use them as a filling for omelets or mushroom caps, as a topping for pizza, or as a pasta toss-in.
Recipes Using Caramelized Onions