I think anyone who cooks should know how to caramelize onions. Not only is it super easy, but they are incredibly delicious and can be used to greatly enhance hundreds of recipes. There are many ways to make them and my favorite is to use clarified butter. We’re creating an unbelievable, intensely rich, sweet flavored, caramel-colored, spreadable delicacy.
Some might say it’s like gold. And others might say it’s like candy. Either way, what everybody is trying to say is that they’re super, super special!
We’re going to learn how to caramelize onions.
There are Many Different Ways to Caramelize
- You can caramelize onions in 15 minutes, by browning their surface quickly.
- You can also use methods where you caramelize them in thirty minutes.
- It can be done in the oven, on a grill or on the stove.
- You can caramelize onions in olive oil, butter, clarified butter, bacon fat — really most fats.
- You get my point — there are many ways to do it, and different results can be reached with each one.
I’m going to share a method in which we’ll learn how to caramelize onions very slowly on the stove. . . drawing all of their natural sugars to their surface.
I love watching a pot full of bright white onions slowly switch to contain only a slim layer of deep caramel, cooked onions. It’s a little like magic!
What makes these caramelized onions special?
Although you can use olive oil, I love using clarified, unsalted butter to caramelize my onions. It adds flavor and the final result is almost spreadable.
Why clarified, unsalted butter for caramelized onions?
Butter has essentially three parts: butterfat, water, and milk solids. Milk solids can burn easily — even at a low temperature. When butter is clarified, the milk solids (and water) are removed and all that remains is the butterfat. This creates a higher smoke point, which makes clarified butter ideal for cooking and sautéing.
For cooking, I always prefer to use unsalted butter. You have more control over the final seasoning and flavor this way.
(Detailed instructions for how to make the clarified butter and caramelized onions are below.)
Uses for Caramelized Onions
- Using this method, the onions become spreadable, making them perfect to add to a sandwich or a pizza.
- The onions are perfect to add to bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, soups, stews, and sauces, and perhaps — on occasion — to a spoon!
update October 2019: This was originally published in 2011 and has been updated with new images and information.