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Jul 27, 2009 02:38 PM

I cheat on caramelized onions

Making caramelized onions takes a long time – 40-45 minutes or so to do it properly. Sometimes I need them in a hurry and that’s just way too long. So I’ve been cheating like this:

I sweat the onions for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. I’m impatient so I use medium heat and I use very little oil so the onions start browning pretty quickly. I keep stirring to coat the onions with some of the brown bits. I deglaze with a splash of water now and then to keep it from scorching. After just 10 minutes or so, the onions are already a pretty golden color and they’ve become quite pliable. I dump the onions into a bowl, cover with plastic and microwave for 4-5 minutes. The bowl gets freaking hot so I use a pot holder to remove it. I return the onions to the pan and let them get deep golden brown at medium heat - which takes only 2-3 minutes more. I deglaze again if it starts to scorch and stick to the pan. This method doesn’t develop as much sugar as the *proper* method, but takes about half the time and works just fine for 90% of recipes I make.

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  1. You would accomplish the same thing by par-boiling them before dropping them into a pan of hot oil.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      I've tried that... doesn't work too well. You don't get enough color development and there is a marginal loss of flavor. Plus you end up with an extra pot to wash. I'd rather wash a small bowl than a pot.

    2. The slow cooker makes perfect caramelized onions, no stirring. I was skeptical when I first read it here but it works.

      16 Replies
      1. re: chowser

        ditto, I just bought 2 big bags of onions and plan to make a batch, they freeze very well also!

        1. re: geminigirl

          @geminigirl: you freeze the onions AFTER caramelizing them? Wow, I would have thought they'd be trashed. If you have a technique i'd love to know about it because my own technique, while easy, takes quite a long time and if I could save a step it'd be a big time saver I'm sure!

          My technique courtesy of JoanN

          1. re: NYChristopher

            They lose nothing by being frozen, and since the fat keeps them from being a solid brick, even if you have them in a large container it's easy to pry out as much as you need with a fork. I freeze onions raw, smothered, fried, and caramelized.

            1. re: NYChristopher

              yep, after they are done I let them cool down and them put them all into one container and freeze, as gg said below they are easy to break apart in small amounts whenever you need. My slowcooker book says 6 large onions, 3 tbsp olive oil and cook on high 9-10 hours. I usually do them overnight so I can watch them in the morning when they are near the end. They are pretty forgiving, just fill your crock up with as much as it can take, not really any need to measure, etc...this is time consuming compared to your method, but not very labor intensive....

              1. re: geminigirl

                So, it sounds like you can break some off from the pack (instead of defrosting ALL of them). Then what, aluminum foil and low heat to bing them to the desired temp?

                1. re: NYChristopher

                  Any way you want - oven, skillet, microwave. Not "rocket surgery"! I'm usually stirring them into some other dish, or topping a burger or baked potato.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    yep, what the other gg said:) they are very could also just make into a big batch of onion soup - that was my original plan but I never got around to getting it together...

                    I use them a lot in bringing lunch to work in the winter - if I have leftover rice, lentils, bulgour, etc...I usually throw in a forkfull or two of onions, whatever leftover veggies I have on hand, some cowboy candy (sugary jalapenos) a bit of cheese, etc...and voila, a really tasty hot lunch for the winter months...

          2. re: chowser

            Can you give details, I really want to do a big batch of these to freeze and have on hand, but caramelized onions for some reason have always intimidated me. TIA.

            1. re: GretchenS

              It's really simple: Just put a lot of sliced onions in your slow cooker (I use my food processor to slice) and add salt and pepper and either a stick of butter or a few good glugs of olive oil. Cook on low until they're cooked down. They do throw off a fair amount of liquid, so you can take the lid off and turn it up at the end to cook that off. I also give them a stir around two thirds of the way through, which I find helpful.

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                LOL, I love the "few good glugs of olive oil" because that describes it perfectly. If you have problems with too much liquid (I haven't but maybe it's quantity), you can also fold a towel under the lid to catch the moisture.

              2. re: GretchenS

                If you don't have a slow cooker and want a stupid-easy, foolproof method for caramelizing lots of onions at a time, give this oven-roasting method a try. This is the only way I ever make them now. It takes about 2 hours, but you only have to pay attention to them for a couple of minutes every half hour. Scroll down a bit to see the the details:


                1. re: JoanN

                  If you are going to start with butter it's a good idea to clarify it first as the butter solids can burn.

                  1. re: Fritter

                    I can't tell you how many times I've done this; I've never bothered to clarify the butter and I've never had the butter burn.

                    1. re: JoanN

                      and that browned butter flavor is great anyway.

                  2. re: JoanN

                    yum, yum, yum yum yum yum YUM!!! Did this tonight and the results were about a million times better than when I did them in the slow cooker. (Slow cooker took 24 hrs and they ended up tasting more like stewed onions than carmelized ones.)

                    THANK YOU!

                  3. re: GretchenS

                    AKA "onion confit". You may want to do it outside or in your garage, because it takes 12-18 hours, and will stink the house up.

                2. If you slice a bag of onions and keep them frozen in a container or bag, they soften way faster, even from frozen (though even faster if you nuke the frozen slices), than fresh-sliced, because the freezing has done the job of breaking down the cell walls. Keeping frozen onions on hand jump-starts most of my cooking.

                  1. between the water and the microwave, you're mostly steaming the onions, with a little bit of burning. just because the result is soft and brown, it doesn't mean they're caramelized.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      That was my conclusion the one and only time I made them in the crockpot - they were too much stewed, too little sauteed.

                    2. If it takes you 45 minutes to carmelize onions your either seriously over loading your pan or you need a new stove. Good grief I can grow onions faster than that!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Fritter

                        This is plain wrong. It does take that long to properly caramelize onions and develop the sugar. If you are doing it much faster than that, you are browning/sauteing, not caramelizing. My method is cheating but it does develop *some* sugar and proper color. If you need truly sweet caramelized onions, this is not the method to use. But for most things I make, it works just fine. Though I agree that I need a new stove... but that's another matter.

                        Also, hotoynoodle, I disagree that I'm steaming the onions, since I am only adding just tiny bits of water to prevent burning and deglaze. I don't add so much water that steam develops. It deglazes and evaporates within seconds. The combination of medium heat saute/steam works remarkably well. And I never said it was just like the real thing... it's a shortcut for busy people that works for most occasions. Don't knock it til you try it.

                        1. re: soniabegonia

                          "This is plain wrong"

                          Uhhm No. It does not need to take 45 minutes and you are not "caramelizing" you are just sweating and/or steaming your onions. You don't add water to caramelize. That dilutes the sugar and just promotes a soft onion not to mention putting them in a bowl and nuking them which in essence steams them a second time.
                          If it works for you great but I assure you it doesn't take me 45 minutes to caramelize even the meanest onion.