Sauteing onions simply means to cook them in a pan with butter, oil, or other fat until the onions are tender. This cooking method is super flexible -- it doesn't matter what kind of onions you use or how you cut them. Some recipes call for cooking the onions until tender but not brown, while others continue cooking until caramelized or golden. We'll show you how to do both, as well as offer pointers on purchasing onions, ways to cut them, and how to use sauteed onions.
In a large skillet or pan heat oil or butter over medium-high heat until hot. Use about 1 tablespoon fat per onion. Add chopped or sliced onions (see below for techniques to cut onions) and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. That's how long to sauté onions to remove the harsh onion flavor and just barely start to sweeten the cooking onion. If desired, cook a little longer until edges just start to brown to bring more sweetness. Remove from heat and use as desired.
Tip: The onions will cook more evenly if you don't crowd them. Stir the onions frequently and keep an eye on the heat. If the heat is too high, the onions can burn.
Easy Ways to Use Sautéed Onions:
Cooking onions longer at a lower heat results in onions that are soft and golden brown. This breaks down the natural sugars so the onions taste extra sweet. We recommend using butter for the best flavor.
Before you sauté an onion, be sure you're starting with a good quality product and prepping it correctly. Use these onion pointers to get started:
Rinse the onion thoroughly under cool tap water. On a cutting surface, use a chef's knife to slice off the stem and root ends. Remove the papery outer skins and cut the onion in half from the top end to the root end.
To Chop: Place each onion half, flat side down, on the cutting surface and make side-by-side vertical slices from stem end to root end. Holding slices together, cut across the slices, making tiny pieces.
To Slice: Place a peeled onion on its side on a cutting surface and use a chef's knife to cut it crosswise, making slices as thin as desired. Discard the top and root slices.
To Slice into Wedges: On a cutting surface, cut the peeled onion in half from stem to root end. Place the flat side of a half down and cut from end to end, angling toward the center to make desired-size wedges.