Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Caramelized Onions

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One day, while I ought to have been doing something more productive, I somehow mindlessly slipped along a series of virtual chutes and ladders and tumbled into the middle of a worst-foods-cliches list.  (I think it was this list, but I can’t be sure since websites have a nasty habit of expanding, contracting, and replicating themselves in other spots. The one I originally read included a very long series of comments at the bottom, which I couldn’t track down again.) I started to say that I don’t know why I read lists like that since they always rile me up, but my husband–who knows me awfully well–would say that is why I read lists like that one.  Just like articles that purport to tell you that although you may think you know how to scramble eggs or grill burgers or cook pasta, you’ve been wrong all along! Aha! I read these lists just looking for an imaginary fight.  The indignation escapes from me in dismissive little bursts the whole time I’m reading.  “Well,” I’ll say to the online article, “the way I do it seems to have worked perfectly well for the past 20 years, thank you very much.”  Or, “Maybe where YOU are the word velvety is overused, but I got a 660 on my verbal SAT, and I can think of no better adjective for those buttermilk whipped potatoes, so there.”

One comment really rankled me (probably its author wouldn’t care for that verb either, its having been overused somewhere at sometime by someone).  S/he professed disdain for the supposed elevation of “humble” ingredients.  It was the humble part s/he hated.  I can’t tell you why.  Something about not caring for the anthropomorphization of foodstuffs?

So, in the interest of simultaneously combating my virtual enemy and telling you about one of my most regularly used culinary weapons, I now present to you an argument in favor of the “humble onion,” who, like so many of his similarly humble compatriots, can be “elevated” (yes, indeed, elevatedbeyond all expectation by combining him with a pat of butter, a little bit of salt, a pinch of sugar, a shot of acid, and a lot of patience.

By the way, if you watch “The Next Food Network Star” (as I do), you may have noticed that one of the annual rites of passage for the contestants is the creation of a new food product.  Well, if I were on the show (a laughable idea for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I fall seriously short in the likability department), this would be my product.  That’s how much I love it.  And there’s nothing like it on the market.  And I’m pretty sure it would bottle nicely.  Golly, maybe I should be on NFNS, if only so that I could hit the big-time with this idea…

These onions are the foundation for my date-night burgers, my chicken fajitas, my vegetable tacos and grilled veggie sandwiches.  I think of them as one of two onion options when a dish just needs something: if it needs brightness, I use my green-onion-and-herb sauce, and if it needs depth and richness, I use these.  If you ever come to my house on a day when I’m not cooking and you think, “What is it her house smells like?”  The answer is…

The Humble Onion…Elevated

1-2 tablespoons of butter

Approximately 4 large onions, cut longitudinally and sliced into half moons (No need to use the pricey Vidalias or Walla-Wallas here.  Just regular, cheapo onions in the big, mesh bag will do the trick.)

1 teaspoon of sugar

1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt (or more, to taste)

1 tablespoon of good vinegar or citrus juice (I typically use a nice, syrupy balsamic)

1. Melt your butter in a big old pan with high sides.


2. Slice your onions.


Four humble onions, cut into half moons. Waiting to be elevated.

3. Dump them into the melted butter.


Elevation is a slow process.

4. Stir them infrequently over medium/medium-low heat, for a long…


After 30 minutes, they are limp but not yet browned.



After 45 minutes…

long time.

5. After nearly an hour, they should have cooked down to only about 1 cup.  Yes.  Really.  When they have, turn them way, way down and add your sugar, salt, and vinegar.  Taste and adjust the balance as necessary. They will probably need more salt.  (You can also add any kind of seasoning blend you want at this point.)


Elevation is complete…an hour later.

6. Put them on top of or into something…or, heck, just eat them with a fork if you want to.  Here, we piled them onto our date-night burgers–because that’s the way we roll around here.


Oh, yeah. That’s some goat-cheese-mayo underneath. That burger’s being elevated from both sides, for heaven’s sake!


One thought on “Caramelized Onions

  1. Pingback: Chicken Fajitas with Caramelized Onions | Plainclothes Feast

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