Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An Early Lesson

I can’t remember exactly when I first learned how to caramelize an onion—caramelization has been in my cooking arsenal for so long. In fact, many of my earliest memories in the kitchen are blurred together in a warm blanket of sweet smells and the sound of my family’s laughter mingling with the sounds of sizzling oil.

I do know that I was an impatient cook, and caramelizing onions was one of my first lessons in patience. After many trials in fighting back tears as I chopped onions (I had yet to appreciate a good sharp knife), I couldn’t wait for the sweet reward. Sitting in the kitchen with burning eyes, the oil couldn’t heat fast enough.

Once the oil was hot, I’d hope that the moment the onions were added and stirred a bit that the savory results would be had at once. But now I know that heat, low and slow, is needed to draw out the sugars in the onions. I learned to let the onions sit and absorb the oil and the heat, only stirring to keep them from sticking to the pan. I love watching the onions transform through the different stages of “doneness;” from lightly translucent with a little bite, to golden brown and sweet.

Caramelized onions have long been a part of my cooking. They make great garnishes or great bases for rich flavor and savory sweetness. For me, they are also important in setting my cooking mood. They remind me that patience and even tears are rewarded in the kitchen, and that as biting onions transform into something sweet, I have the time to spend with my family in the kitchen, as always.

Caramelized Onions

2 large onions (I like yellow onions), diced
Olive oil or butter to coat skillet plus 1 Tbsp.
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar (optional)

Heat oil in pan until you see ripples.Add the onions and reduce heat to medium low. Turn onions to coat them with oil. Add salt and sugar (optional) and allow onions to cook slowly, turning occasionally to keep from sticking and to cook evenly.

Onions may be caramelized to different degrees of “doneness,” but should not be overdone to the point of drying out or frying. For sweet onions with a little bite, cook until very lightly brown and translucent. For very sweet onions, cook until deep golden brown.

1 comment:

Auntie Fi said...

Little Fi:

What a beautiful thing this piece is.

Learning to caramelize inexpensive ingredients, make something out of the cheapest cuts or rudest vegetables, is the SOUL of great cuisine across the planet.

You have just given up one of the first keys to the Food Kingdom with this recipe, and now people new to cooking can begin to look into what makes the flavors from the world.

There is, for example, a simple pizza from France which uses cheese and caramelized onions - its fantastic. Or French Onion Soup...