Thursday, December 13, 2012

Quest 1.3 - Caramelizing Onions!

First, let me preface this by saying I'm sorry for neglecting you over the last couple of months. My life has been packed with upheaval and change and I am just now starting to settle back into it! Worry not! It's good change! All is well on the 8-Bit front!

Don't get me wrong, I completely accept the fact that no one actually reads this blog and no one has actually missed it. But in a special part of my brain that spurs me forward with a crack-like mixture of delusion and hope, I dream of people reading this who are just as crazy about food (and everything else I babble about) and we can build an online family of cooking nerds.


Something so delicious, versatile and simple that you HAVE to know how to do it! Enjoy them on pizza, in stir-frys, sandwiches, pasta dishes, soups and casseroles!

Caramelizing brings out the natural sweetness and flavor of the onion. With just a little hot oil in a pan, you can turn a rather harsh-tasting vegetable into something with a wonderful, deep, sweet flavor. All you need is a little time and patience....and an onion, pan, oil and optional salt & pepper.

Step one: choose your onion! Any white, gold or brown onion will work. When you're in the supermarket, take the time to examine your onion. Make sure there aren't any bad spots or discoloration and try to get an onion with the crispy, outer skin still intact. Make sure the onion skin is bright and shiny. If you see any dark, powdery spots under the skin, this is an indication of MOLD. And that's gross. Also, make sure to choose an onion that hasn't sprouted (stemlike growth from the root) as sprouting is an indication of age and poor storage. If you buy onions in bulk, by the bag or crate, make sure to store them in a cool, dark, DRY place and try to rotate them and check for wear on a regular basis. Gently rotating your fruits and vegetables will greatly extend their life by routinely easing the pressure on the skin.

*TIP Stored whole onions should stay fresh in your pantry for ten days to two weeks. Cut or chopped RAW onions should be stored in an air-tight container and refrigerated and used within a few days. If you plan to freeze your chopped onions, make sure to store them in an air-tight ziplock bag and date them. They will begin to lose their flavor after one year in the freezer. 

Step two: chop your onion! Use a sharp knife with a good grip and a clean, dry cutting board. When caramelizing onions, it's usually best to cut your onions in thin, half-rings. If you cut your onions too small (dicing), you run the risk of burning them. 

First, peel off the crunchy skin and cut off the stems. The flat tips will give your onion some stability for your first big cut. It makes chopping easier and safer. Remember, the goal is to chop the onion, not your fingertips. Now, place the onion on one flat end and cut in half. Think of the stems as the length of the onion and the circumference as the width. So you're cutting length-wise.

Place the onion halves flat on the cutting board and slice length-wise again into strips. Four or five slices on each half should do the trick.

Step three: heat your oil! Add two tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil to a large pan and turn your stove to medium heat. I always use cast iron when I caramelize onions. The reason I like cast iron is because it conducts heat evenly. Stainless steel is my second choice and I never use non-stick pans if I can help it. I'll go more into pots and materials in a later post so you can better understand my reasoning and gain a better knowledge of how different types of pans will effect how your food cooks.

When your oil starts to move and shimmer a little, it's ready. If it's smoking, it's TOO HOT -- so turn down the heat. To test your oil, drop in a piece of onion and if it sizzles gently, it's ready. Caramelizing onion is a marathon, not a race. The sweetness is extracted slowly. Any recipe you read that says you can caramelize an onion in ten minutes, is full of shit. You can sweat an onion in ten minutes but caramelization takes at least thirty to forty minutes.

Step four: add your onion slices and stir! Using a heat resistant silicon spatula or a pair of tongs, move around your onions and give them all a nice light coating of oil. At this point add optional salt and pepper to season.

*TIP Remember, adding salt speeds up the cooking process and will drain the natural moisture of the onion! Use it sparingly and stir constantly. 

You have to pay close attention to your onions. This is a slightly more labor-intensive lesson in that you have to stir frequently. The goal is to get your onions as evenly cooked as possible and bring them to a beautiful shiny, golden brown.

The next stage you'll see is your onions starting to get shiny and a little translucent. They will also start to smell really, really good.

Soon, your onions will start to shrink (men, this is natural, don't let it affect your self-esteem) and turn a beautiful golden brown. Now the sugars are really starting to party. That gorgeous golden color is what we are aiming for throughout so continue stirring. Your onions will also start to stick to the bottom of the pan a little. Worry not! This is normal. In fact, this is supposed to happen at this point.

*TIP If you feel your onions are sticking a little too much, don't add more oil, add about 2 tablespoons of water, broth or white wine to the pan and stir. This is called "deglazing." It helps remove any cooked on onion from the bottom of your pan and creates a little extra moisture.

The final stage, after all that stirring and patience, is a pan of sweet, golden deliciousness. Remember, your onion will have shrunk to a fraction of the size. This is normal. It may be smaller, but it's much, much tastier. Remove your onions from the pan immediately to prevent them from continuing to cook from the residual heat. Add the onion to soups, sandwiches, pastas or use them as a pizza topping! This particular batch went on my home made garlic white pizza and it was amazing!

*TIP If you plan to store your onions for later use, keep them refrigerated, in an airtight container and make sure you date the container for freshness. They will be good for about one week.

Well, did it! You caramelized an onion! ...Or you READ about caramelizing an onion! Kudos to you, too!


+10 Chopping
+10 Sautéing

Tune in next time as we roast garlic! In the mean time...keep on cookin'! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter for more tips and tricks @8BitCook

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