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Sauteeing onions and garlic

Ok, need a little help. Many, many recipes call for you to start with a tbsp or two of oil and then to cook onions (or shallots) and garlic for 5-7 minutes or so until the onions are "translucent" or some such description. Then you add other ingredients.

However, what always happens is that the garlic burns before the onions reach the proper consistency, adding a funky taste to the dish. Now, I solve it by adding the minced or sliced garlic only 1-2 minutes before the onions are finished, but I have to wonder if I'm doing something wrong as most recipes say to add them together but that never seems to work.

Any recommendations or ideas?

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  1. Try lowering the heat....or steam sauteeing the aromatics. You could also increase the amount of oil used.

    1. You're not doing anything wrong-garlic burns easily. If a recipe calls for sauteing onions and garlic simultaneously, it's wrong.
      Always start with the onions to get them going, then add the garlic.
      Sounds like you figured this out yourself!

      1. I often had that problem. I finally figured out that the garlic was going to a: burn and b: taste very bitter if I started them both together. (This only took most of my adult life to resolve!)

        So now, I always start the onions and get them to the stage they are supposed to be, translucent, brown, whatever. Only then do I add the garlic in. I stir it into the onions, and then start smelling my pan. Once I've smelled the garlic cooking for about 30 seconds, I move to the next phase of adding whatever ingredients come next.

        The garlic is perfect and never burnt or bitter with this method. It's also cooked, so it doesn't have that "raw" taste.

        1 Reply
        1. The thing to do is heat the oil then add the chopped onion before the chopped garlic. Let the onions sauté for 4 minutes over medium-high heat. Then add chopped garlic and sauté about 2 minutes...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Gio

            Yep-- either start the onion first, sautee at a very low temperature for a long time, or put the onions and the garlic in a food processor so the particles are the same size. Just make sure you pulse (turn on the food processor for a few seconds at a time) and keep an eye on it so you don't get liquefied onions.

          2. It isn't technically sauteing the onions. You're sweating them. It requires a lower temperature. Sauteing requires the temperature set at med high. Sweating requires medium or even a little lower.

            Anyway, you start with the chopped or sliced onions. When the onions are done, clear a space in the middle and add your minced or pressed garlic. If you sliced the garlic, you will want to add it earlier but I recommend minced or pressed. You only leave the garlic there for 30 - 40 seconds until you can smell the garlic. Stir the onions and garlic and go on to the next step in your recipe. Your onions will be translucent, Your garlic won't be burned but will add to the taste of the dish.

            1. Thanks everyone! Why don't any of these recipes tell you this? I mean, this isn't a one time thing, we come across it all the time, usually on medium high heat too.

              4 Replies
              1. re: YosemiteSam

                lazy recipe editing in my opinion. As you have found, this is obvious once you burn garlic three or four times!

                1. re: YosemiteSam

                  What is interesting is there is only 10 - 12 cooking methods, period. There are 5-6 wet methods and 5-6 dry methods. They pretty much cover 99% of all cooking.

                  Unfortunately, the recipes describe the steps over and over. They don't tell you to sweat the onions or sweat the mirepoix.

                  Often times when I am transcribing a recipe on to my hard drive, I rectify it. Why should I type all that in again and again when I can just use 1 word?

                  If you spend some time looking up and studying the 10 - 12 main techniques, you will pretty much know as much as anybody. Then who needs a cookbook? You can get all the recipes you can stand on line.

                  Before everybody starts in on me, I own dozens of cookbooks. I just bought some. I just can't help myself, but you don't need them. We just like em anyway.

                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                    Cookbook addiction is a common affliction on this board! Experience is a great teacher as well.

                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      Re the 10-12 cooking methods, I've had that thought about psychotherapy - only probably fewer. You just gotta know which to use when :)

                  2. I've often wondered the same thing on the TV cooking shows. Many times they put the onions and garlic in together. But on most of the shows, they're rushing through the recipes because it's TV time, not real cooking time. The only TV cooking show that seems to always pay attention to details such as this are the Cook's Illustrated programs "America's Test Kitchen" and "Cook's Country".

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: John E.

                      I always cringe as the camera closes in on the pan and we have to watch the garlic burning.

                    2. What I'm still not sure about is why you bother to toss in onions and garlic first when you're going to end up cooking them for quite a bit longer anyway.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: mrip541

                        The onions and garlic give the dish a lot more flavor added early and in some dishes the onions wouldn't get soft. In braises, they would still get soft and probably doesn't matter as much.

                        Also, the onions get a chance to caramelize somewhat which adds flavor that wouldn't be there if they were just thrown in with all the liquid.

                        1. re: mrip541

                          I just read an article in Cooks Ill, I believe, that determined that sauteeing the onion, and I would guess garlic as well, prior to adding the rest of the ingredients adds to the flavor of the dish. The sweating of the mirepoix allows some kind of reaction that causes the release of big bursts of flavor from the onion cells.

                          1. re: NE_Elaine

                            In her book "How to cook without a book", Pam Anderson who used to be a chef for Cook's Illustrated, experimented with the effect of the vegetables in making stock.

                            She wanted to find a way to make stock in less than 3-5 hours.

                            She found that sweating the carrots and celery early didn't make much difference but sweating the onions early added a lot of taste to the stock.

                            Makes sense that it would be the same in other dishes.