When I walk into a house and smell food cooking, I instantly feel welcome. When I walk into a house and smell onions cooking, I pretty much want to move in. In spite of looking like I just watched The Notebook every time I work with them, they will always have a place in my kitchen. The bulbed plant is the perfect complement to any dish, and it’s safe to say you could find it on the list of ingredients for most savory recipes. Depending on the cooking style and time, the onion can range from a sharp, tangy flavor to buttery and sweet.
Caramelization of an onion is the process of browning natural sugars over heat, and it gives a new personality to something that, when raw, is pungent and obvious. In their caramelized state, onions are soft, mellow, and they pretty much melt in your mouth. They add depth as an accompaniment to an extravagant dish, are perfect piled on a hamburger, and are difficult to avoid eating on their own. The process is extremely basic, and aside from onions and olive oil, it simply requires patience, a watchful eye, and about an hour.
The onions will cook down to a small portion of their original size, and three of them will produce about 1 ¼ cups of the finished product. Halve them, then cut into 1/4” slices. Add them to a sauté pan with 6 tablespoons of olive oil that has been heated over medium heat. Don’t worry if it seems the onions are piled into the pan – they cook down so quickly that it isn’t a problem. Stir the onions occasionally as they become translucent. About 30 minutes in, the onions will become a very pale golden color and, at that point, begin stirring more often. The second 30 minutes is a true test of patience – the process seems to take forever, but about 45 minutes in the golden color will become deeper, the sweet smell will become more apparent, and any cooking liquid in the pan will seem thick and scarce. Stir the onions constantly, being careful they don’t burn or get crisp.
I like to put the caramelized onions in a glass bowl and let them settle for bit; any leftover oil separates, and I drain this to avoid unnecessary greasiness. They can then be added to pretty much anything; I added mine to grilled bread with sausage and gorgonzola cheese. Stored in an airtight container, the onions can last a few days. However, I highly doubt you would not use them up before then.