A Guide To Caramelizing Onions

Learning how to properly caramelize onions is an important part of mastering nearly every type of cuisine. Whether you’re hoping to show off your deft understanding of American cooking techniques by placing caramelized onions atop a delicious cheeseburger or making French onion soup, this skill is imperative for any aspiring chef. While many people think this process is a breeze, caramelizing onions can actually be rather tricky. You always run the risk of burning or undercooking your onions, which will take away from the desired flavor. Moreover, people are prone to making simple mistakes when executing this cooking process. In fact, Bon Appetit has a list of six common mistakes people make when caramelizing onions:

  1. Cutting the onions too thinly
  2. Only using butter (it burns easily)
  3. Putting the onions on high heat to try and speed up the process
  4. Adding too many onions to the pan at once
  5. Only using oil
  6. Not allowing the onions long enough to caramelize

You’ll notice most of these errors have to do with impatience. When you cut your onions too thin or add too many to the pan, you’re likely trying to hurry your cooking time. Same goes for cranking up the heat or removing your onions the second they brown. Caramelization takes a significant amount of time – 45 minutes plus prep time, according to a recipe by Food Republic.

Factors to consider 
When caramelizing onions, consider first what type of onion will best complement your overall dish. White or yellow onions might be perfect for a juicy onion, while red onions taste great on a freshly baked slice of pizza. Once you have selected your onion, make sure you’re using the proper type of pan. As onions caramelize, they produce a glaze at the bottom of the pan known as the fond. Stirring the onions around in the fond will give you an extra layer of flavor. Nonstick pans will not collect this glaze, whereas stainless steel pans and cast iron skillets will allow it to accumulate more easily, according to The Kitchn.

You can also add more flavor to your caramelized onions by deglazing them. Once your onions have browned and caramelized, stir in vinegar, wine, beer or water to take the flavor profile to the next level. This will give you an opportunity to mix in the fond as the onions soak up the liquid.

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