Caramelized Onions

Golden and silky or jammy, these are great.
TIME 30 to 60 minutes or a little longer
MAKES 4 servings (1½ to 2 cups)
2 pounds any onions (6 to 8 medium)
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, or more as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Trim the root ends from the onions and peel them. Cut the onions in half from top to bottom, then lay each half flat side down and cut it into thin slices (it doesn’t really matter which direction you slice).

2 Put the onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the onions are dry and beginning to stick to the pan, 15 to 20 minutes.

3 Add the oil and a large pinch of salt and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, tender, and as browned and soft as you want them, another 5 to 40 minutes. As they cook, add a little more oil if necessary to keep them from sticking—no more than 2 additional tablespoons—and lower or raise the heat so that they sizzle gently without burning.

4 When they’re as you want them, taste and adjust the seasoning, adding some black pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature. (They’ll keep in the fridge for a week.)

  • Creamed Onions: Slice the onions thickly (about ½ inch) and use butter instead of olive oil. In Step 3, add 1 cup cream to the pan along with the butter; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions absorb most of the liquid and the sauce is thick, 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Caramelized or Creamed Leeks, Shallots, or Garlic: Slice the vegetables as you would the onions and follow either the main recipe or the preceding variation. Check the vegetables frequently and lower the heat as necessary, since these vegetables are prone to scorch more quickly than onions.

  • Caramelization is a process, not a final destination: What “caramelizes” is a food’s natural sugars; this starts to happen as soon as you apply heat. The first time you try this recipe, taste frequently and stop cooking when you get a flavor and texture you like.
  • Some ideas for using carmelized onions: When they’re just soft and barely colored, try tossing them with noodles or rice. A little more golden and silkier, they’re good on top of some simply cooked steaks, burgers, or chops. After they become brown and jammy, I like them smeared on bread or mixed into mashed potatoes.

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