Caramelized Onions-Jazz-Up the Same-Old, Same-Old….

Caramelized Onions

Despite my numerous attempts over hours, days and weeks to broaden my children’s palettes, I still live in a world where simple foods like grilled cheese sandwiches, plain pasta dishes and “separated” foods prevail. I need a bit more excitement at mealtime, so, I turn to condiments that add heat, spice and interest to my meal.

With crispness in the air, hardy herbs like rosemary and thyme still standing, and my onions ready to be harvested, I had a craving for these caramelized onions. I make them numerous times over the fall and winter. There was a time when I needed a “recipe” for them, but, after a while, cooking them becomes instinctual and they are hard to screw up. Just remember…low and slow.

They are a great recipe to share because not only are they very soothing to make because there is a lot of stirring (I often make them when I am in the kitchen doing something else: cleaning, vacuuming, having lunch, talking on the phone), but, they offer a good lesson in chemistry in the kitchen (more of that to follow). They are screaming for improvisation, but, their sweetness and acidity should be balanced.

When these caramelized onions are in the fridge, the attitude, “If you can’t beat them, join them”, becomes a pleasure. As you can see from the serving suggestions below, they will add luxuriousness to many of the boring foods your kids love and thier possibilities are almost endless.

Equipment: a wide, shallow frying pan (either non-stick or cast-iron) with a cover (or you can use a large cookie sheet as a cover)

Do-Ahead Strategies: Like I said, the beauty of these onions is that they can and should be prepared ahead of time when you can keep an eye on them for about 30-50 minutes. These are not something to throw together at 5:00 p.m..

Serves: they shrink down to about 1 1/2 cups, this sized batch will last me a week


2-3 pounds yellow onions (If you can get a sweet onion, all the better. Red would be fine too.)

2-3 tablespoons butter and/or extra virgin olive oil (use a combination or one of each alone)

1/ 2 -3/4 teaspoon salt (you may need to salt to taste after they are cooked)

1/2 -3/4 teaspoon sugar (or honey)

Freshly ground black pepper-(you may need to add more after they are cooked)

Optional additions: a few smashed cloves of garlic, herbs like rosemary or thyme (on the branch), sweeteners like brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, vinegars like balsamic or sherry, or braising liquids like apple cider or white wine


  1. Stem and peel the onions. Slice the onions in half through the stem, lay the flat side on the cutting board and slice thinly, maybe ¼ inch.
  2. Warm the pan on medium-low heat, add the butter and/or oil, let it warm-up and then add the onions and the salt and pepper. Give them a good stir to coat and cover. (This is where the kitchen science comes in….when you cover the onions, the pressure and the salt forces the liquid out of the onions. When you uncover and cook them on low it pulls the sugar out of them.) Let this cook for 10-15 minutes. You know you are done when the onions are sitting in a pool of their liquid. Take a peek about halfway through and give them a stir. If they are drying out and starting to brown , turn down the heat and finish the 10-15 minutes. All onions are different.
  3. Remove the lid and reduce to low. This is where you can start adding additions like herbs (I leave them on the branch and fish that out later) or a sweetener to help the onions brown. Let this cook on low until the onions start coloring and shrinking. Keep an eye. Cook them for about 30-50 minutes, stirring them every 10-15 minutes. They should be caramel in color and evenly cooked. If the pan starts to dry out and the onions start sticking, add a splash of liquid.                               

4. After the onions are “caramelized”, as in photo above, you can (but do not have to!) add a few tablespoons of vinegar or ½ cup of cider or white wine to bring another layer of flavor to the onions. Turn up the heat a bit and give this a stir. Let this liquid reduce down completely. Besides adding more flavor to the onions, this liquid also helps you to scrape every bit of onion sugar off the pan. It is kind of like deglazing the pan.              

5. Store caramelized onions in a glass container for a week or so in the fridge.

Flavor Variations and Serving Suggestions:

Bring onions to room temperature before serving unless they will undergo reheating.

  1. Grilled Cheese: Put some of these onions in a grilled cheese sandwich, maybe with some mustard or some black olives and a few thyme leaves. You could also add some walnuts or raisins into the mix. Some leftover sliced beef or chicken would be great too.
  2. Toasts: Under the broiler, toast some thick cut bread, with shredded gruyere cheese or parmesan cheese or a drizzle of olive oil and top with caramelized onions. Sprinkle with walnuts and drizzle with honey (great as a side to a simple green salad or sautéed greens).
  3. Pasta: warm some onions up with balsamic vinehar and fold them with some bitter greens like arugula (do not cook) or shredded radicchio (I would saute this a touch first and give it a splash of balsamic vinegar) and spaghetti or penne pasta. Drizzle with olive oil and shaved parmesan cheese. (The kids can just eat the pasta with olive oil and cheese!)
  4. If you like radicchio or arugula salads, serve these warm onions as a topping with parmesan or pecorino cheese, walnuts. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.
  5. My favorite frittata-stir in some of these onions to a basic frittata batter, make the frittata and top with arugula, walnuts and sherry vinaigrette. It is a salad topped frittata! (I make a plain frittata topped with cheese for the kids and call this an “egg pizza”; it’s all in the name….)
  6. Serve as a side to a pork roast or pork chops: After the onions have caramelized (hopefully with rosemary), take them one step further, add some apple cider and reduce the liquid until it is gone. When the liquid is gone, remove from heat and fold in some toasted pecans, parmesan cheese, maybe some more honey and use as a side to pork. If you want a bit more pungency, add a splash of balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar.
  7. Serve as a side to roasted butternut squash or pumpkin. Scatter with homemade toasted breadcrumbs or pine nuts. Stick the roasted squash on a few kebob sticks for the kids, you may get lucky.
  8. Top a foccacia or pizza dough with onions, gruyere cheese, black olives and thyme leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and honey. This is a great adult pizza on homemade pizza night.
  9. For a dinner party: Fold them into a warm grain salad, like farro or wild rice. While the grains are still warm, you should also toss in handful of currants or golden raisins, parsley or arugula. Dress this with some vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper.Top with toasted pecans or walnut and some crumbled goat cheese.
  10. Serve warm onions on the ubiquitous pear, walnut and blue cheese salad. It will add a bit of silkiness to this popular salad.
  11. Good combinations to try: thyme-honey-a few garlic cloves, rosemary-walnuts-balsamic vinegar-extra black pepper, brown sugar-balsamic vinegar-white pepper.

4 comments on “Caramelized Onions-Jazz-Up the Same-Old, Same-Old….

Leave a Reply