Caramelized Onions

by Kris on January 31, 2011

Making caramelized onions is a great project for a lazy, rainy day. It’s really time consuming but not hard at all. They’re great to have on hand as they add a lot of flavour to simple dishes and last a long time in the fridge. They are not, however, fried onions! Don’t get me wrong, fried onions are good and all but they can’t compete with their sugary brown counterparts. The trick with caramelized onions is to have a good cast iron frying pan. I have tried several times to make them in a normal frying pan and it usually ended in me pulling my hair out as Greg fed the garbage disposal burnt crisps and raw onions. So do yourself and your hair a favour and buy yourself a cast iron frying pan before attempting to caramelize onions. The reason the cast iron pan is superior is because it creates an even heated surface which is crucial for the caramelization process.

3-5 medium yellow onions (although any onion could be used)
3-5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tsp. granulated white sugar (optional)
¼ cup dry white wine
medium cast iron frying pan

First things first, peel your onions. Chop off the top and bottom of the onion, then sit it on your cutting board and slice it in half. Cut both sections length wise again. Continue to cut the onion until you have slivers of about ¼ of an inch wide. Do not cut the onion across. You want to end up with about 8 wedges of onion. Pull each wedge apart to separate the natural layers. Do this to all of your onions and set aside.

Add the olive oil to your cast iron frying pan.

I like to add extra oil so that when the cooking process is complete the remaining oil is infused with caramelized onion flavour. This is great to keep on hand for future recipes!

Heat the oil on medium high until it starts to shimmer. Add the onions and toss them in the oil so they are all equally coated. Don’t worry if the pan seems overly full, onions reduce in size as they cook. Fry them for about one minute and reduce the heat to low.

I can’t stress how important it is to cook them on low! If the temperature is too high the onions will burn before their natural sugars are released. Once they are burned the caramelization process will not happen and you will be forced to start from scratch.

Set a timer for ten minutes and walk away. I know it’s hard but resist the urge to stir them! When the buzzer goes off turn the onions and set the timer for another ten minutes. Continue to do this until the onions are caramelized. This usually takes between 2 and 4 hours.

You will know they are done when they are soft, sticky, and dark brown. If you are a little pressed for time you can add a teaspoon of sugar half way through the cooking process. This helps to speed up the caramelization.

Remove the onions from the pan and drain the oil into a reusable jar. Add the white wine to the frying pan and de-glaze it, making sure to scrape up all the remaining brown bits. Combine with the onions.

Store the onions in a sealed container in the fridge.

They last up to two weeks but I guarantee you they will disappear quickly! They’re really great to have on hand to add to salads, sandwiches, meat and essentially any recipe that comes to mind. Enjoy!

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Spectra January 22, 2012 at 4:13 am

This post makes me very glad that I just recently purchased a second-hand cast iron pan, and seasoned it… love carmelized onion, but I had the problem of burning some of it – may be running out to the market later today for a big ol’ bag o’ onions…they’ll go nicely with the wonderful recipe for french onion soup I’ve stored away.


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