Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hot Day? Turn on the Oven: Oven-Carmelized Onions

1/2 an onion down, 5 1/2 to go
No matter how this turns out, my house smells like heaven right now - if heaven is full of onions and butter (and why shouldn't it be?).

I always seem to find some cooking project when it gets hot that requires the oven to be set at 400 F and run for several hours (insert .wav of Nancy Kerrigan wailing, "Why? Why?").

Since I like to have things made-ahead in my (freezer) pantry whenever it makes sense, one of the things I wanted to have are some caramelized onions.

I am following the America's Test Kitchen oven method that comes with their "Best French Onion Soup" recipe.
6 onions - ready to go in the oven.

By freezing them, I know I'll lose some texture and flavor, but they won't need to last that long because I can find many uses for them. I love roasting vegetables: asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. and all of the above would benefit from some caramelized onions.

I saute a lot of greens - same dealio. I eat a lot of salads (heavy on the vegetables, light on the lettuce) - ditto. Hell, I'd eat caramelized onions out of a bowl. Shhh... I'm thinking about grilled baguette slices topped with some of these onions, goat cheese and sprinkled with thyme leaves. Or on top of a grilled steak.

By using olive oil instead of butter, you can make it vegan.
After 1 hour
After 2 hours
After 2 hours, 45 minutes. Looks kinda scary but it's not done yet.
Better. Scrape, scrape, scrape. There are some bits that look burned but I tasted a couple of them (okay, I did a lot of tasting) and they were just fine. This shot was taken right before I added the 1/4 cup of brandy.

Recipe: Oven-Caramelized Onions
From America's Test Kitchen's  "Best French Onion Soup" recipe
Yield: About 2 cups caramelized onions

Equipment: heavy-bottom dutch oven, 5-7 quarts

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 3 pieces
  • Cooking spray or oil
  • 6 large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • water for deglazing
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or 1/4 cup brandy 
  • Adjust oven rack to lower-middle and preheat to 400F.
  • Generously spray the inside of the dutch oven with cooking spray oil or coat with oil. Place the butter in the pot. Add onions and salt. Cook, covered for 1 hour. Remove the pot from the oven and stir, scraping the sides and bottom. Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown - about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer. Stir the onions and scrape the sides and bottom of the pot after 1 hour.
  • Remove the pot from the oven. Cook the onions on on the stove top over medium-high heat (use your oven mits/potholders - those handles are hot!) 15-20 minutes. Reduce the heat if they are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the pot bottom is coated with a thin brown crust (fond) after about 6-8 minutes. Stir and scrap the bottom and sides of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen the brown fond and stir it back into the onions. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of water if you need help loosening the fond. There's no shame cooking this at a medium temperature if you're concerned about burning - it will just take longer. Cook until the liquid evaporates and another layer of brown crust has formed repeating the process of stirring and scraping up the fond and stirring it back into the onions.
  • Add the sherry (or brandy) into the pot and cook, until it evaporates. If you're concerned about a flare-up, pour the brandy in a glass measuring cup, move the pot to an unlit burner, add the brandy and then move the pot back to your active burner.
  • Allow the onions to cool in the pan. I spooned about 2 heaping soup spoons each into 1 cup "snack size" ziplock baggies and labelled them before putting them in the freezer.

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