I'm halfway between the stand & stir and the crockpot suggestion.
I agree the process must be slow and steady, but I like to eat my onions on the smae day I start them!
My best onions have been stand & stir, but for applications where I will be putting the onions into a braise or mishing them with other ingredients, I do the following:
In a large, shallow straight sided saute pan over medium low heat, I put about 1/4 stick of butter. Then I heap on the onions and dot it with more butter maybe 1/4 stick more. I do not add salt because I want the Onions to caremelize, not sweat or saute- I don't want thenm releasing too much water. If I have other tasks to prep, I drop a lid over the whole thing and let it heat/steam itself for a good 30-45 minutes, stirring occaissionally- the steam produced from the butter and the little that comes from the onions should keep them from charring.
Once the onions are soft and pliable, I keep the lid off- I find over steaming the onions gives them an unpleasantly sour tang- not the kind bestowed by balsamic vinegar. With the Lid off, I revert to the stand and stirr method- by that time I'm usually pretty caught up with the rest of the meal's prep and can keep a closer eye on the onions.
I do not season the onions, add sugar or vinegar until I incorporate them as an ingredient. They should speak pretty well for themselves.
For real French Onion Soup- It's stand & stirr all the way- I want the truest, richest flavor without any cheating or the off-flavors from steaming/sweating the onions.
I think I'll make some ham & caramelized onion tarts soon... this thread is making my mouth water.
My own novel way:
I have a working gas grill in the back of my store.
I put a cast iron skillet on top of the grills, put it on low and ocassionaly go out and give it a stir.
They cook very slow that way.
At the end of the day, if they're not as far along as I'd like I turn up the heat a bit.
Slice 10 onions very thinly, put into a baking tray and drizzle well with olive oil (2tbsp I think I use) and 2tbsp honey. Cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven for 45 mins. Remove the foil, stir and continue baking for approx 1 hour - you might need to stir a couple more times.
When browned to your liking, sitr in 1tbsp bsalmic, season and voila!
Unfortunately, to come out right, you have to do it the old fashioned way. Very slowly over low heat, standing over it, and stirring the whole time.
The rewards are great, but it is long.
I use them for making Emeril's Passover Pot Roast and have gotten raves from everyone. I also use them in making pissaladière. Done correctly they make an amazing difference.
I don't put sugar in caramelized onions - I tried it once, and it made them taste artificially sweet. They're so much better without the sugar!
I start the onions long before I need them, and do something else for half an hour or so, stirring the onions occasionally. Usually, I wash the dishes, do the prep for the rest of the meal (I love stuff that needs lots of chopping), whizz up the ingredients for tomorrow's sorbet, play with the cat, or get caught up on my newspaper reading.
And I always make more than I need and freeze the excess for the next time.
That crockpot method sounds really interesting - I'm going to try that next time.
Here's an answer you probably weren't expecting. I got it some time ago from another board but don't have the attribution, so apologies to whoever posted it.
6 cups sliced onions, about 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
Put the onions in a crock pot, drizzle the olive oil over, cover and cook on high for 8-10 hours. Stir a few times during cooking. Onions will be dark brown.
If desired, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and a good pinch of sugar - white or brown as you prefer -
toward the end.
I always knew there'd be something I could use the crockpot for.
I usuallly turn on Aretha Franklin, return to the kitchen and dance and sing until the onions are camelized. Actually, there is nothing wrong with adding a little brown sugar and vinegar and piling it on to crosettas. Anyway, my soul music method is fool proof, unless you get too wrapped up in the music.
re: Karl S
My method is very easy but takes approx.45 minutes. Add sliced onions to the pan with some olive oil,salt and pepper on a very low flame and cover them for about 20 minutes stirring often. You want them to be translucent. Once they reach that stage, remove the cover and turn the heat as high it will go. Stir them often and they will take about 25 minutes or so to carmelize.