How to: Caramelize Onions


By Dane Feldman

Photos by Dane Feldman.

I have included caramelized onions in several recipes here on Dish + Drink over the course of the last six months or so. It has recently dawned on me that many of you may not know how to make the perfect caramelized onions, which likely makes following some of those recipes rather difficult.

First and foremost, caramelizing anything is not for the lazy cook. It’s a time consuming process and there truly is no short cut. You will want to set aside at least 30 minutes to take care of your onions either before you do your other prep work or while another part of your meal is cooking.

Although the most important factor is time (seriously, I can’t stress enough how much you can’t rush caramelizing onions), there are also a few other tricks to keep in mind. Follow the steps below in order to achieve the perfect, no frills caramelized onions.

What you’ll need:
1/2 large Spanish onion, chopped
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 small skillet

Heat the first tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Stir and let saute on medium heat for about 20 seconds.

Then, turn the heat down to low and push the onions together into a pile using the back of a spoon. Cover.

Every 2-3 minutes, check to make sure the onions aren’t burning. Stir them, push them back into a pile, and cover again.

If at any point the onions begin to burn, turn the heat down lower and add an additional tablespoon of oil. You may need to do this one or two times, hence the extra oil listed above.

After about 30 minutes, your onions should be perfectly caramelized. If they seem too soggy, pour out some of the oil and let cook for another two minutes before serving them.

Note: Most recipes for caramelized onions call for brown sugar, which is why they typically look far browner than the onions do here. I use Spanish onions because they release just enough sweetness when they are cooked in this way and also because, truthfully, there’s no need for the added sugar.