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Caramelizing onions

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I've lost it. I've lost my onion mojo. I used to knock out whole batches but these days for the life of me I can't do it. They turn out crispy and tough and definitely not brown and sweet.

I slice an onion lengthwise and then put it in a saute pan with olive oil on high heat for a couple of minutes. Then I add a pinch of salt and sugar and reduce the heat to low. I figure that should give me that deep brown amber color but it's not working out. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. It's basically a matter of principle now; I spent my entire weekend trying to get it right, but no luck.

Any advice? Thanks.

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  1. Check JoanN's method for doing them in the oven, referenced many times: http://www.chow.com/search?query=Cara...

    You should NEVER start them on high. Medium to sweat and soften - high only to brown them at the very end of a leisurely cooking on the stove for an hour or more, depending on amount.

    5 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      The oven method is the ONLY way I will make carmelized onions now. I did 10lbs last weekend. Yes, the soup was lovely.

      1. re: smtucker

        I second that. I've done them in the crockpot as well and remember those as being excellent as well, but I don't have a crockpot here so can't compare the two methods side by side. The oven method definitely turns out a wonderful carmelized onion though.

        1. re: smtucker

          you mentioned soup.
          French onion?
          if so, do you add alcohol to it? if so, what kind? I've used white vermouth or cognac.
          I love French onion soup, think since it's raining I'll do that along with the chicken chow mein from another thread I'm also doing.

          1. re: greygarious

            greygarious, my comment to you here is that I'll share my vegetable garden with you.
            although of the west coast, I have a great throwing arm........

            now onto aesir and the inquiry........

            it's low and slow.use butter and olive oil a good douse of salt and a tablespoon of regular sugar and a tablespoon of brown sugar. lots of onions too, like 3 big guys. I slice, not chop, and turn my smaller BTU stove onto the low setting, no cover and watch, just keep an eye on...

          2. I think the high heat is your problem. I use medium to low/medium heat. You want to be able to cook them long enough to caramelize before without getting burnt, so starting off on high for minutes just means they're going to burn long before they get to any caramelization state.

            1. The thing is, the onions never really seemed burned. They're just kind of dried out and crispy at the end, but they don't taste or look burned at all. It's like I'm slow frying them or something.

              1 Reply
              1. re: aesir

                Your question has been answered and your results explained.

              2. It's like Axl Rose once sang ... "♫ have a little patience ...♫"

                1. Caramelizing and browning are two different, and I would say unrelated, things. If you want to caramelize onions, just put then in a covered saucepan on LOW heat with some olive oil and salt, and cook for an hour or more, stirring occasionally. This makes them sweet. You can brown them after that by turning the heat up to medium-high.

                  1. My oven's busted so I do everything on a stovetop. In terms of heat I have put the onions on extremely low heat (you can barely see a flame) for a good 90 minutes but still can't get the results I once used to.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: aesir

                      you first have to get the water out of the onions and if you have them on ultra-low for 90 minutes you will not get there.

                      i do 5-6 pounds at a time and it takes close to 60 minutes on medium to eliminate the water. then i spend 2 hours on low, stirring every 15 minutes to get the correct texture and sweetness.

                    2. Don't add salt until almost the very end. When you add salt too early, it releases the liquid from the onion and dries them out. Sweat them in some butter on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or longer. Add a little brown sugar and some balsamic and cook slowly for another 10 to 15 minutes, then salt.

                      1. Try the slow cooker, if you have one. Just put onions in, butter/oil on top, sprinkle with salt, pepper to taste, cover and cook on high for however long it takes.

                        Stinks up the place for the first hour or two, but the smell dies down significantly once the onions start really cooking. I usually drain the liquid about halfway through or a couple hours before I turn the slow cooker off (and I save and freeze that liquid for later use in other dishes). Just crack a window, I guess. :o)

                        1. I do my onions on my low heat burner on low. A bit of butter, olive oil, white wine, and thyme. Cover, cook for 2 to 2.5 hours, stir every 20 to 30 minutes. Heaven.

                          1. I'd been using the pressure cooker for other stuff this week when I realized I had the fixings for mujadarra, which I'd never had but which was highly praised on the current lentil thread. I already had cooked brown jasmine rice in the refrigerator so my game plan was to cook lentils most of the way through in the vegetable stock and seasonings, then add the already-cooked rice. I started by sweating onions in oil in the open pressure cooker, then sealed it and cooked for 5 minutes, with a quick release. They were swimming in onion juice. Uncovered, I let the onions reduce for 15 min or so but then fished all but a half-cup out. A lot of liquid remained behind, to which I added broth, seasonings, and pressure-cooked the lentils. Once the lentils and cooked rice were mixed, I emptied the cooker and cooked the onions a little while longer. I could not have gotten them completely caramelized without them cooking down to a mush, so I settled for less depth of flavor. I don't know if the mujadarra would pass muster with the dish's devotees, but I enjoyed it. But I do not think I will try caramelizing onions under pressure again.

                            1. Edit - whoops - just noticed your note about your oven - NEVA MIND! Sorry I hadn't read all the previous posts.