Here’s an easy recipe on how to caramelize onions without adding any sugar. You only need onions, olive oil, and salt to create one of the best condiment recipes.
Caramelized onions are great as a topping for grilled chicken or pizza and add a depth of flavor to many other dishes. And don’t forget about breakfast – they can take your frittata to the next level by adding a touch of sweetness and savory goodness.
The magic of caramelized onions lies in their ability to enhance a wide range of dishes.
Whether you’re topping focaccia, layering them in a sandwich, folding them into a fluffy frittata, adding them to soups for a rich depth, or incorporating them into comforting casseroles, these caramelized gems will take your creations to the next level.
Their sweet, savory taste pairs well with various ingredients, making them a versatile addition to your culinary repertoire.
Not only do caramelized onions impart a wonderful flavor, but they also undergo a stunning transformation in color during the caramelization process.
The humble white onions turn into a glorious golden brown hue that adds visual appeal to any dish.
Seeing those beautifully caramelized strands is a feast for the eyes and can instantly elevate the presentation of your meals.
More reasons to love this recipe
Aside from the delicious taste and stunning color transformation, there are even more reasons to love this recipe.
Easy to make: While caramelized onions may sound like a gourmet cooking technique, they are incredibly easy to make. With a bit of patience and a few simple steps, you can master this old-school method and enjoy the rewards.
Simple recipe: Another reason to love this recipe is its simplicity. All you need are onions, olive oil, and salt. There is no need for fancy equipment or ingredients. And while the cooking process does require some patience and attention, it’s not difficult to master. With a little practice, you can make perfectly caramelized onions every time.
As a dietitian, I love how this simple process of caramelizing onions can be a healthier alternative to adding excessive amounts of salt, sugar, or unhealthy fats to dishes.
By incorporating caramelized onions, you can enhance the taste and complexity of your meals while reducing the need for less nutritious flavorings.
The process of caramelization
Caramelization is defined as the process by which the browning of sugar occurs. [source]
These sugars, in the form of carbohydrates, are naturally found in fruits and vegetables.
Fruits like apples, bananas, and peaches make spectacular desserts when their sugars heat up and caramelize.
Slow cooking is the key to this process for the natural sugars to brown and contributes to a major taste transformation.
Mise en place
There is only one food item to prep for this recipe: one pound of yellow onions. If you don’t have a scale, that’s about three medium onions.
Although slicing one pound of raw onions might sound like a lot, you will see that by the end of the caramelization process, on average, this recipe yields approximately ¾ of a cup.
So please pick up your sharpest knife, perhaps a set of goggles, and let’s start chopping.
Place the onion sideways and cut off the stem.
Then, place it flat on the cutting board and cut it in half, from the root to the bottom, where the stem used to be.
Keeping the root intake, remove the outer skin. Place flat on the cutting board and make ¼ inch incisions as close as possible to the root.
Then chop off the root.
Repeat this procedure until all the onions are sliced.
It’s now time to caramelize onions!
Over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, wide cast-iron skillet or large, heavy pan at least 12 inches in diameter. Swirl to coat the pan.
Add the sliced onions, one-third at a time, and toss in the oil until properly coated.
Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt and constantly stir for about 2-3 minutes or until they start to soften.
Lower the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until the onions become very soft, slightly sticky, and a deep golden brown. Stir the onions and /or shake the pan every 3-4 minutes.
If they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a little water, about a tablespoon or so, and scrape the bits off. Consider lowering the heat if they start to burn.
Towards the end of the process, a few minutes before the onions are done to your liking, add 1-2 tablespoons of water, stock or wine to de-glaze the pan. When the liquid evaporates, they are done.
Use immediately or cool to room temperature, refrigerate for up to three days, place in an airtight container, and cover and freeze for up to one month.
- One pound of yellow onions = 3 medium.
- Make soup stock with the unused outer skins. Freeze until you have enough vegetable scraps to make a flavorful broth.
- Keep the root intact to hold the layers of the onion in place. This makes it easier to slice evenly.
- Use a large sauté pan or cast-iron skillet, at least 12 inches in diameter. This encourages the water accumulation released by the onions to evaporate quickly. This, in turn, provides the perfect environment for the onions to caramelize properly.
- Add salt at the beginning. This helps draw out the moisture from the onions.
- Use low heat and stir. Do not be tempted to increase the temperature to speed up the cooking time.
- Use stock or wine to de-glaze the pan instead of a splash of water to release the browned bits stuck on the pan.
When given the choice of which variety of onion to caramelize, keep in mind that each type of onion contributes a slightly different taste. Whether it is the yellow, red, or sweet variety like the Vidalia, experiment to see which you prefer. You might also try mixing different varieties.
A cast iron or heavy pan, which is recommended, creates those little brown bits throughout the onion caramelization process. Deglazing these flavorful morsels stuck at the bottom of the pan contributes a lot of flavor to the final product. In comparison, you can use a non-stick skillet, but the overall flavor is inferior.
How to use caramelized onions
How to Make Hash Browns
Caramelized onions make the perfect topping for hashbrowns!
If you have ever wondered how to make hash browns at home, this is for you!
As you can imagine, caramelized onions were not the food of my childhood.
It wasn’t even a part of my teenage years or my young adult life.
Yes, I am embarrassed to say that I was late to appreciate the miraculous transformation of onions.
Thank goodness for the Food Network!
Do you remember the first time you were first introduced to the magic of caramelized onions?
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★★★★★ If you use this procedure to make the best-caramelized onions, I would love to hear about it in the comments below and be sure to rate the recipe!
How to Caramelize Onions
- 1 pound onions 3 medium yellow, sliced ¼ inch thick
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Over medium-high heat, add the olive oil in a cast-iron pan or large, heavy skillet at least 12 inches in diameter. Swirl to coat the pan.
- Add the sliced onions, one-third at a time, and toss in the oil until properly coated.
- Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt and stir constantly for about 2-3 minutes or until they start to soften.
- Lower the heat to low and cook, uncovered for about 45 minutes or until the onions become very soft, slightly sticky and a deep golden brown. Stir the onions every 3-4 minutes.
- If they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a tablespoon or so of water and simply scrape the bits off. Consider lowering the heat if they start to burn.
- Towards the end of the process, a few minutes before the onions are done to your liking, add 1-2 tablespoons of water, stock or wine to de-glaze the pan. When the liquid evaporates, they are done.
- Use immediately or cool to room temperature and refrigerate for up to three days or place in an airtight container, cover and freeze for up to one month.
- One pound of yellow onions = 3 medium
- Make soup stock with the unused outer skins. Simply freeze until you have enough vegetable scraps to make a flavorful broth.
- Keep the root intact in order to hold the layers of the onion in place. This makes it easier to slice evenly.
- Use a large cast-iron or heavy skillet, at least 12 inches in diameter. This encourages the water accumulation, released by the onions, to evaporate quickly. This, in turn, provides the perfect environment for the onions to caramelize properly.
- Add salt at the beginning. This helps draw out the moisture from the onions.
- Use low heat and stir. Do not be tempted to increase the temperature to speed up the process.
- Use stock or wine to de-glaze the pan instead of water to release the onion bits stuck on the pan.
- Nutritional information is for the entire recipe.
This post was originally published on July 10, 2020 and republished on June 2, 2023 with updated content and a video. Thanks for sharing!