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Mar 13, 2007 08:01 AM

Why not caramelize the onions a bit?

I read in recipes all the time- "try not to let the onions get any color", "being careful not to let the onions start to brown", "just cook the onions until soft and translucent", etc. Why not? I'm sure I always take my onions further than they are really supposed to go. I don't always caramelize them, but maybe just to the point that they are just starting to get some color. It is just an aesthetic thing? Like in a bechamel sauce, or whatever, where you wouldn't necessarily want bits of browned onion running through it. Or are there other reasons? What do you usually do?

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  1. I'm with you...I always cook 'em to the color I like. I don't care if a white sauce has brown bits. I like brown bits.

    1. Well- I will have to confess. We have one picky eater who always asks that I leave out onions in recipes- but I have discovered that she really only dislikes raw onions. When cooking onions, however, I usually do only take them to the translucent stage, as that way she doesn't notice them!! But, like you, I would prefer them a bit more brown.

      1. I think it is a flavor issue - not wanting to get the onions too sweet or to let them get burned if some people try to cook them too fast. But that being said - I love carmelized onions, so I often brown them a bit anyway.

        1. I think it's a flavor issue too. Cooking them longer will release more sugar, and depending on the recipe might change the flavor.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Infomaniac

            Totally agree. Carmelizing can bring up too much sugar and can upset the balance of a dish

            1. re: Candy

              What would be an example of a dish that you think it would upset the balance of? Just curious!

              1. re: Katie Nell

                For me, I know when I make fish chowder, the onions that I cook to long and are browned are always floating on the top vs. when the onions are translucent, they swim with the fish in the broth. Taste is a little different too.

                  1. re: wally

                    I usually brown the onions in a risotto a bit, taking my cue from pilaf. Am I disrupting the pH or just the aesthetics? I also usually top my risotto (usually a wild mushroom) with crispy shallots.

                    1. re: ballulah

                      IMHO, the sweetness of the carmelization of the onions can overwhelm other flavors in the risotto. Crispy shallots as a topping are a whole other issue and flavor. Could be really good.

                  2. re: Katie Nell

                    I had some left over caramelized onions a couple of weeks ago and decided to use them on a pizza. We ended up picking them off. They were so sweet they over powered the pizza.

                    1. re: Candy

                      I don't cook 'em to the caramelized state...just a nice light brown.

                      1. re: Hungry Celeste

                        Yeah, me too. But, I could see if you did fully caramelize them how they would be too sweet for some things. I think at the state that I take them to, you wouldn't notice any added sweetness.

                        1. re: Katie Nell

                          or you could combine the fully caramelized onions with goat cheese to off-set the sweetness

              2. I think it's a colour and taste thing. In classic cooking, they emphasize keeping things the same colour (ie white pepper in white things, which I hate) and also, in terms of taste, in classic sauces, etc., you wouldn't want the onion to overpower the other flavours.
                That said, doesn't mean it's the best way to do it and I prefer mine slightly browned too in most cases.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pescatarian

                  I was thinking about the white pepper too when I posted.