An Ode to Caramelizing Onions (and How To Do It Right)

Making caramelized onions is one of the simplest yet most striking acts of kitchen magic there is. Butter and salt are the only ingredients you need besides the onions themselves. The process isn’t complicated, though it does take time—which is the most important element of all. Properly caramelized onions require at least a full hour, if not more, but the investment is so worth it.

For some (like me), the time spent is even a pleasure. At least, it is when I’m in the mood for the task. Isn’t that ever the case?

I always love to eat, and often love to cook, but sometimes balk at the mere idea of the kitchen. Even a job as relatively simple as prepping a pound of Brussels sprouts to roast can make me gnash my teeth and turn to a can of tuna instead. On better days, I’ll chop a bunch of stuff and tend a mix of different pots and pans, but my diced tomatoes will never be uniformly sized, my garlic will nearly always be grated instead of minced with a knife, and I might not bother thawing shrimp before chucking them in boiling water, or even browning meat if it’s going into a sauce (I know). Call it laziness—it definitely is, in part—or more generously, just say I’m not necessarily a purist when it comes to  technique. Caramelized onions, however, are an absolute exception; I will not use shortcuts, and if I can’t commit to an hour by the stove, I’ll just eat something else. Browned onions can work if I simply want something to top a burger, but truly, madly, deeply caramelized onions cannot be rushed.

Well, actually, they can, or at least can be hurried along; I simply have a (probably illogical) bone-deep aversion to any fast-track tactics. If you’re not such a stickler, Alton Brown has a microwave method that seems vaguely alarming, even before you get to the commenters attesting that their onions caught fire when attempting this trick. Other sources suggest adding sugar or baking soda to a standard pan to speed up or enhance the caramelization. If you hew to classic low and slow, neither are necessary, but it’s understandable if you don’t always have the patience (or time). Unfortunately, they will almost always need some amount of babysitting, and here we reach the limitations of the Instant Pot; it makes a mushy mess out of them, and they’re only a wan shade of blonde to boot. Conversely, if time’s not an issue but you still need to be elsewhere, slow cooker caramelized onions look promising:

Allegedly, you can use plain old water to speed things up, but I never do. Part of it is just innate stubbornness, but mostly, I love the process of “properly” caramelizing onions—which means something different to everyone who has an opinion about it, of course. And any way you cook them, they’re said to freeze beautifully. We’ve never had any left, and I hadn’t thought about cooking them just to have on hand later, but that might need to change…

My own method (fine-tuned to my personal preferences, middling and finicky electric stove, and other idiosyncratic kitchen equipment) is as follows:

  1. Peel and slice way more yellow onions than it seems like I’ll need; I usually use at least five small to medium, and prefer to halve them down the meridian, then cut the eastern and western hemispheres into half moons.
  2. Get out a large, heavy bottomed pan—I own two cast iron skillets, but they’re both smaller than my sturdy off-brand stainless steel sauté pan, so I use that. The thinner aluminum pan in the drawer is inferior, but I’ll break it out as back-up if I need a ton of onions.
  3. Set the pan(s) over medium-high heat for about a minute, then add a big pat of butter, then a little more butter.
  4. Heat the fat until the butter melts and is just sizzling, swirl the pan to commingle it with the oil and coat the bottom, then slide in the onions—usually, I’m aghast at how many there are, and worry the pan is so crowded they’ll never cook down, but know from experience that they will, eventually. (If I started with a smaller amount, it probably wouldn’t take so long to caramelize them, but then I’d also have less end product, and I am, sadly, both gluttonous and resistant to change.)
  5. Sprinkle a generous pinch of salt over the onions and stir them over medium-high heat for several minutes, until they’re translucent and slick and starting to look like they’re on the long, slow road to total collapse. (I stir almost constantly so as not to let them brown at this point, but if a few spots have some color, I don’t sweat it—metaphorically, anyway.)
  6. Once the onions are all limp and see-through and have released some liquid, I turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook them, stirring fairly often, paying attention to sound and smell as well as slowly developing color, decreasing the heat again whenever it seems prudent. Eventually, it’s turned to the very lowest setting, and I just keep communing with the onions, stirring now and again, for a long, leisurely time. They always look fairly unpromising for quite a while, but gradually, they take on a pale straw color that in turn deepens to yellow and then to gold, and much, much later, become a fully burnished, dark brown mass of pure flavor that looks like it might just about fill up an 8 ounce measuring cup, despite the fact that I’d swear I started out with a quart of onions, at least.

It’s the ultimate in cozy domesticity, which sometimes appeals above all else. But if it sounds tedious, and even frustrating, I get that. (So do recipe writers, which is why they often lie about how long it takes.) That’s also why I don’t usually caramelize onions on work nights. And why I’ve sometimes cooked two pans’ worth at once, so I have a little more to show for my efforts once they’re over. But sometimes I want to just sink into and savor the process itself.

Maybe it’s another form of cooking as meditation (“carameli-zen“?), though I don’t quite think of it that way. It simply has such acute sensory appeal: the initial hard sizzle of the raw onions subsiding to a gentle murmur until you’re in an almost silent kitchen (ideally); the steadily intensifying perfume of the browning sugars (which will linger in the house and on your clothes for at least a full day afterward, but is nice at the time anyway); the easy slide of the worn-satiny wooden spoon (or silicone spoontula, in my case) through the slowly melting onions; the alchemy of watching crisp, firm, white vegetable flesh collapse into sticky, golden-brown shreds; and then of course, the ultimate reward is the deep, richly sweet taste. It’s all enchanting—and better yet, it gives me the opportunity to hunker down in the kitchen and read a back issue of a dearly departed magazine (RIP Gourmet and Lucky Peach), or a food-focused book (Nigel Slater’s Notes From the Larder is a current fave) in between casual but consistent bouts of stirring. Rather than a chore or any sort of drudgery, it’s heaven. To me, anyway. When I’m in the mood for it.

Barefoot Contessa

A little (or a lot) of caramelized onions add lavish, sweet savor to pretty much anything, from pizza and tacos to hamburgers and sandwiches in general, but I’ve probably cooked down fifty pounds of alliums over the past several years for the Barefoot Contessa’s pan-fried onion dip alone. I made it once for Christmas Eve and that was it; it became my signature dish, whether I wanted it to or not, and I’m not allowed to go too long without making it for a party, probably for the rest of my life. Luckily, I’m okay with that (and it is delicious). In fact, I settle in and cook the onions even longer than Ina’s recipe calls for (and cook more of them too). Sometimes, say 10 minutes before I want to take them off the heat, I stir in a dash of balsamic vinegar and a squirt of grainy mustard to give the onions even more oomph before cooling them and folding them into the dairy medley, but it’s the extra-long time luxuriating in a pan that really makes them—and the dip itself, and anything else they touch—so special.

I just ensure I have the afternoon free and something good to read, maybe crack a beer and drag a dining chair up to the stove for good measure, and in the end, it feels like a couple hours very well spent.


Tropical Shrimp and Pineapple Skewers

Marinade;

1 cup pineapple, cubed

4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon chili sauce

¾ cup water

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or white vinegar

½ tablespoon salt

¼ cup coconut cream

1 lime, juiced

2 limes, zested and divided

3 tablespoons cornstarch slurry (2 tablespoons water mixed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch)

SKEWERS

1 pineapple, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

PREPARATION

1. Place wooden skewers in a bowl of water to soak for at least 10 minutes.

2. Puree the pineapple, garlic, chili sauce, and water in a food processor.

3. Heat a pan over medium heat, and add the pureed sauce mixture.

4. Add vinegar, salt, coconut cream, lime juice, zest of one lime, and salt, and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to a simmer.

5. Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl to create the slurry, then add the mixture into the sauce and simmer until the sauce thickens, about a minute.

6. Skewer the pineapple and shrimp, then brush sauce on both sides.

7. Grill skewers over medium-high heat until cooked, about 2-3 minutes per side.

8. Sprinkle finished skewers with lime zest and serve with remaining sauce.

9. Enjoy!


Half Roasted Tomato Salad with Salsa Verde

Half Roasted Tomato Salad with Salsa Verde

Just made this for the Meal Delivery Service and it’s awesome!!!

Serves 4 to 6

For the salad:

  • 1   quart sweet cherry tomatoes, preferably a mixture of colors and shapes
  • 3   garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • Olive oil, for roasting
  • Coarse salt, for sprinkling, plus more to taste
  • 2    tablespoons drained capers
  • 1    large or 2 medium/small ripe beefsteak tomatoes, chopped into large chunks
  • 1    handful thinly sliced red onions (half-moon shape), soaked in ice water for 10 minutes, drained, and dried (optional step that will remove the bite from the onion)
  • 1    handful fresh basil leaves, or fewer depending on your preferences
  • 1    splash red wine vinegar, optional

For the salsa verde:

  • About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1/4cup coarsely chopped basil
  • 1cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1small garlic clove
  • 1anchovy
  • 1tablespoon drained capers
  • 1pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2lemon, for juicing
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Pour the cherry tomatoes and garlic cloves onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, making sure everything fits in a single layer. Pour a generous layer of olive oil over the tomatoes so that it forms a shallow pools in the base of the baking sheet—you’ll be repurposing this oil later. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are blistered and deflated and have released their juices.

Toss the capers with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and pour them onto a separate baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they’re fragrant and crispy.

When the tomatoes are out of the oven, you can start on the salsa verde: Pour all of the extra juices and oil from the cherry tomato baking sheet into a liquid measuring cup. Pour in enough extra-virgin olive oil so that you have 3/4 cup total.

Add the oregano, basil, and parsley to a food processor and process until the herbs are all finely shredded and paste-like. Pour in a small amount of the oil (a couple of tablespoons) and process.

Add the garlic, anchovy, capers, and red pepper flakes and process to combine. With the motor running, stream in the rest of the olive oil and process until you have a uniform sauce. Taste it, then add a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground pepper, as desired. Don’t add salt until after you’ve tasted the sauce—the anchovies and capers might be plenty salty on their own!

In a large salad bowl, dump the blistered cherry tomatoes, roasted capers, raw tomato chunks, red onion, and a handful of basil leaves. (You can also reserve the capers for later and add them to the top of the salad at the very end—this will help them to retain their crispiness.) Add a spoonful of salsa verde and mix. You can add the salsa verde until it coats all the vegetables and pools at the bottom of the bowl or you can stop earlier. Taste for acid and add red wine vinegar as you see fit; add salt and pepper to taste.

 


    Carrot Dogs with Grilled Onions

    Remember that fried foods eaten occasionally are fine as far as health goes, as long as you use traditional fats, NOT vegetable oils!     I use duck or beef fat.

    carrot-dogs-4

    10     carrots, ends trimmed to make hot dog-size shape

    1       cup soy sauce   –  since soy is so toxic I use Coconut Aminos or you can use Braggs Liquid Aminos

    2      cups white wine

    2      Tablespoons dill

    minced fresh ginger root

    2      cloves garlic, minced

       ground pepper to taste

    2 large yellow onions, sliced, grilled or sautéed in heavy iron pan on medium high heat.

     

    1)   Steam carrots until about half way cooked, should still be hard in the very middle.

    2)    Place carrots in marinade for two hours or overnight if you have the time.

    3)    In heavy iron skillet, with butter hot, brown on all sides.

    4)    Serve with onions and condiments of your choice.

    5)  My family uses toasted Ezekiel bread as buns but there are gluten free buns available.


    Ghee–How and Why

    imageImage result for ghee

    Browned Butter                                                       Ghee

    Ghee is also called clarified butter. It is basically butter that has had all the milk solids cooked out, and therefor is pure butter fat / oil and lasts a very long time without spoiling.  It is amazing for cooking because it has a really high smoke point, which means it doesn’t oxidize and break into free radicles in your body like other oils that are cooked at really high temperatures (such as vegetable oil or olive oil). Is also not an issue for dairy intolerant people because you cook off all the milk and dairy solids so the final result is free from any dairy. Contains butyric acid which protects your immune system by feeding the beneficial bacteria in your gut and helping them to protect you at a gut level. Stimulates your digestive acids and juices so it kick-starts your digestion. It also contains MCFA (medium chain fatty acids) which is also in coconut oil, this type of fat is not stored in the body it is used for energy. Rich in vitamins in grass fed butter such as vit A, Vit E and K2 also CLA which is an antiviral antioxidant. Ghee is a power house for your health and is super gentle on your digestion and your gut. I highly recommend using it, plus it has the most lovely caramel flavor and scent. You can store it at room temperature in an air tight container for months.

    To make ghee;

    I make ghee in big batches, 8 to 10 pounds at once.  This recipe will be for two pounds.

    1. Place butter in Dutch oven or a thick bottomed saucepan.  
    2. Heat the butter over medium heat until completely melted. …
    3. Cook for about 10-15 minutes on medium –high heat, you want a rolling boil, not just a simmer. 
    4. I over brown my ghee, I love that nutty flavor.  Let it boil until it is darkened, see photo below.
    5. As the steam begins to subside the foam will start to have a few dark specks in it.  Stir periodically to check on the milk solids in the bottom.  As the milk solids begin to brown you should start to notice a distinctive “nutty” butterscotch aroma developing.  The darker the color the more flavor will develop but be careful not to burn it.  When butter is a medium to deep brown color, remove from heat and cool slightly or use immediately.  (For photo purposes, some of the foam was removed to better see the butter color and browned milk solids in bottom of pan)
    6. Then slowly pour through the wire mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth.
    7. Put a little water and dish soap and bring it back to a simmer, this will help loosen the milk solids that have burned on to the bottom.

    Seared Flounder with Sesame Spinach

    A quick, but elegant, dinner. The fish is delightfully crunchy, and the sesame really brightens up the spinach. Sesame seeds give depth of flavor and add calcium. Sesame seeds are one of the best sources of calcium.  I sprinkle a light topping of Goma Ae, a wonderful sesame seeds condiment (recipe below).

    image

    Serving Size : 4

    2 teaspoons butter

    4 whole garlic clove — finely chopped

    4 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger

    4 bunches flat-leaf spinach — trimmed, coarsely chopped

    4 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil

    4 Tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

    8 teaspoons Bragg’s amino acids or (better) Coco9nut Aminos

    4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

    Kosher salt

    2 pounds flounder fillets

    1 cup rice flour

     

    1) Heat 1 Tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

    2) Add spinach and sesame oil and toss to coat. Cook, tossing occasionally, until spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes.

    3) Add vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame seeds; season with salt and pepper and gently toss to combine. Set aside.

    4) Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. sesame oil in another large skillet over medium-high heat. Season fish with salt and pepper and dredge in flour ,cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Serve flounder with spinach.

    Goma Ae Condiment Recipe;

    Sesame seeds add a nutty taste and a delicate crunch any greens dish, but is also great on fish. 
    Toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan just for a few minutes (no oil needed).   This simple step brings out the wonderful aroma of sesame seeds and toasty flavors.

    Once the sesame seeds are nicely toasted, grind them in a Japanese mortar and pestle. You will be immediately surrounded by the fragrant roasted sesame smell!  You can use a food processor but buzz in bursts and be very careful to not over process, you’ll have tahini!   Then add coarse salt to taste.  I use 2 cups of sesame seeds with about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of salt. Start slow and add, tasting.

    Japanese grocery stores sell convenient crushed/ground sesame seeds in packaged, but the fragrance and flavors won’t be the same.

    I use my Suribachi to grind the seeds. It’s great for making Thai chili pastes from scratch also!


    Shrimp & Crab Cakes with Mango Salsa

    crab-cakes-with-mango-salsa1 (1)

    Shrimp & Crab Cakes

    Serving Size : 4

    Crab Cakes;

    1 1/2 pounds shrimp — chopped
    1 pound flaked crab meat
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
    1 cup gluten free bread crumbs- I use 4Crumbs– available on Amazon but pricy. Local Publix in Jacksonville carries them.
    2 teaspoons butter

    Mango Salsa;

    1 large Mango- diced
    1/2 medium onion- diced small
    1/2 red pepper- diced small
    1/2 green pepper- diced small
    2 Tablespoons cilantro- roughly chopped
    1 teaspoon cumin
    2 Tablespoon lime juice
    1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
    salt and pepper- to taste

    1) Thoroughly mix shrimp, crab, egg white, mustard, hot pepper, salt and pepper in a bowl. Shape into 8 patties, each about 3/8 inch thick. Spread breadcrumbs in a shallow dish and coat the patties on both sides with crumbs.

    2) Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat; add crab cakes and cook until golden on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.

    3) Or bake on 350 for ½ an hour or lightly browned.

    4) Top with mango salsa.

     

    4C Crumbs-Seasoned, Gluten Free, 12 Ounce