Caramelized onions are so easy and such a flavor-packed, versatile ingredient. They might have a little bit a reputation for being “fu-fu,” but don’t let that stop you from using them to boost the flavor of practically any dish. From BBQ to steaks to sandwiches, omelets, and pastas, their rich flavor won’t disappoint. Even people who say they don’t like onions will generally change their tune for these caramelized ones. Personally, I love adding them to eggs and veggie burgers/sandwiches like Veggies & Caramelized Onions on Pretzel Bread Hoagies.
To caramelize the onions does take a little time, about 45 minutes to an hour for 2-3 onions. It’s a medium-low heat, gradual cooking process that really juices up the natural sweetness in these onions. You don’t want to skimp and go too fast, or you’ll miss out on the caramelization process. But don’t let the time intimidate you, either – you can have these onions going on a back burner or let them cook on a lazy Sunday afternoon or even while you work on cleaning the rest of your kitchen. You really don’t need to watch them cook, or even stir them very often. I like to make a decent sized batch and keep them in the fridge or freezer for whenever I want to use them. Just throw them into the hot pan to warm up with the rest of the cooking ingredients, or warm them in the microwave.
Plus, not only are caramelized onions tasty and easy to make, they are cheap. I mean like REALLY cheap. All you really need are sweet onions, a little oil or butter, plus a little salt/sugar/balsamic if you want to pump up the flavor even more.
Start with whatever variety of sweet onions you like. In the Pacific NW, we readily have Walla Walla onions, but you can also use Vidalia onions, or any other sweet onion that is available in your grocery store. One medium onion will end up as about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of caramelized onions. I used two larger than medium onions which resulted in enough for about 6 sandwiches.
I cut the onions in half, and then slice the pointy end off. This makes it easier to peel the paper. Leave the bulb end intact – this will give you something to hold on to while you slice.
Slice the onions about 1/4 inch thick. It doesn’t have to be exact, in fact, sometimes it’s nice to have a few thicker or thinner pieces that will give variety of texture in the finished product. If you are going to use these in a hash or stuffing-type dish, I would chop the onions in smaller pieces, but not too small.
Here is how my two onions looked like after slicing. I would say do as many as will fit in your pan. Remember, these will keep in your fridge and freezer.
Start with a little butter or olive oil in a large skillet. I use both, about a tablespoon of butter and a couple teaspoons of oil. Heat the pan to medium low.
Throw all the onions into the pan and toss to coat in the butter/oil. Add a pinch or two of salt, and the same of sugar if you want your onions to be a little sweeter. And now we wait. Stir them every so often to make sure nothing is sticking and they heat evenly.
It won’t seem like anything is happening at first, but gradually you’ll notice the onions start to get a little see-through and then then begin to brown a little. Here is where you’ll want to check them a little more often to make sure they aren’t cooking too quickly or browning unevenly. Adjust the heat if you need to.
Looking good!!! When they get to this point, the onions are almost done. Now is when you’ll want to add a drizzle or two of balsamic if that is what you are going for. Not too much, a little will go a long way. Toss to coat.
Holy smokes, folks – that looks so good all zoomed in, hahaha! Just cook them a little more to seal in that balsamic flavor. Note that there are a few larger pieces that didn’t get as caramelized – that’s ok – they will give the onions a tiny bit of texture a crunch in with the melted texture of the rest of them.