Caramelized Onions Recipe

Caramelizing onions is one of the simplest and most inexpensive ways to dress up a meal.  Caramelized onions have a nutty, rich and savory flavor.  The act of caramelizing them removes any pungency and sharpness and instead provides a subtle sweetness.  You can transform a simple piece of grilled meat or a burger or sandwich really easily and give it gourmet flair.

Often times I will buy a bunch of yellow onions and caramelize them all at once and then freeze a portion.  The one down side is that it does take a while, so it’s not the best thing to do when you’re trying to cook up a really quick meal.  It’s a really simple process, though, so it’s good to do when you’re hanging about the kitchen one day.  Then on the days you’re rushed, you can use your prepped onions.  It’s an easy thing to do when multi-tasking or just having a chat and glass of wine.  Lots of times, I will tend to them as I watch Chief cook our actual meal, ha.

Caramelizing onions is something good to do if you have invited someone over for a meal.  Even if you are just grilling a piece of meat, it makes the house smell like you are cooking up a storm.  I will usually get about 4 medium-large size yellow onions to do this recipe.  The only other thing you need is clarified butter and/or olive oil.  I like to use a mixture of both.  I have probably been too in to butter these days after reading about all its health benefits in books such as Nourishing Traditions, but adjust the fat to whatever you think is best for your body.  So really, all you do is as follows:

  • Lop off the very top and root portion of four yellow onions and remove the outer skin.
  • Cut the onion lengthwise so there are long longitudinal strips of onion (pole to pole, not along the equator).  Try and make them the same size so that they cook at the same rate.  If the onion is large, you may want to cut it in half before beginning the lengthwise cuts.
  • Begin heating up about 2 nobs of clarified butter in a pan on medium-low heat, along with a couple tablespoons of high quality olive oil.
  • Once the butter and oil mixture starts to shimmer, toss the strips of onion in the pan and spread them out so they are about ½” thick covering the bottom of the pan.
  • Cover the onions with a dusting of salt.  Salt helps draw the water and sugar out of the onion and ends up producing a richer flavor.
  • The goal is to allow the onions to turn a golden or light brown color but not to blacken and/or get stuck to the pan.  It will take about 30-40 minutes to properly caramelize them.  This is not a step to be rushed because the act of caramelizing is allowing all the sugars in the onion to emerge and combine.
  • Keep moving the onions around every few minutes or so – this is an easy thing to do while preparing the rest of your meal or sitting perched next to the stovetop while chatting.
  • If the onions start to stick, you can add a little bit of water to release them.  If you want to get fancy, you can add in a bit of wine to deglaze the pan.
  • Some people will add in a little bit of brown sugar or sugar after about ten minutes of cooking.  The sugars within the onion are naturally sweet so I don’t think it’s necessary to add the evil sugar!  One idea is to add in some pears or apples though.  Chief and I did this once when a pear was getting old and we didn’t want it to go to waste.

Onions and all the other members of the allium family (leeks, shallots, garlic, etc.) are claimed to have wonderful health benefits.  The have been associated with the ability to eliminate toxins, raise good cholesterol, neutralize free radicals, reduce the risk for some cancers, and they are anti-inflammatory.  Components that give them the powerful health benefits include sulfur compounds and quercitin (a flavonoid).   Onions are a great source of vitamin C, folate, fiber, potassium and vitamin B6.

You can caramelize the other members of the allium family listed above using the same process.  The one downside to making caramelized onions is that cutting the raw onions makes you cry.  But don’t we all sometimes feel better after a good cry? 🙂


  1. Maureen December 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm · Reply

    Ah! Sounds delicious!! Can’t wait for you and the Chief to cook up a storm this holiday season!

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