Tag Archive | cooking techniques

How to caramelise onions

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Traditional Caramelised Onions

The traditional way to caramelise onions is to fry them in a small amount of butter or oil at a very low heat for at least 30 minutes. They go soft and golden and the caramel flavour is entirely made from their own natural sugars.

1) Use brown onions and slice them into thin rings or half rings. Heat the oil to a medium heat, add the onions, then lower the heat and stir occasionally. You may need to very lightly deglaze the pan a few times with a couple of teaspoons of water. This will give you the most traditional results.At the end once they are soft and golden brown you can turn up the heat again to darken the edges.

2) You can also use a cast iron skillet to heat the oil and brown the onions initially then put them in a warm oven (around 150ºc to 180ºc) for 10 to 30 minutes rather than using the stove top. You will still get a long slow sweet and soft result. This is a good option if you’re roasting garlic or cooking something else in the oven and don’t need the onions right away.

Lazy Caramel Onions

But you don’t have to do it this way. You can have caramelised onions in a few minutes if you’re willing to cut corners. You can use one or both of these tricks to cheat at caramelised onions. They’re not as good but most of the time this won’t really matter especially if you’re adding them to a cooked dish rather than serving as a topping or sandwich filling.

1) Microwave the onions first. Microwaving the onions for 1 or 2 minutes before adding them to a very hot pan will help them cook quicker once they’re in the pan.

2) Add a teaspoon of brown sugar once the onions are browning. This will both soften the onions and give you a sweet caramel texture but you only have to cook them for a few minutes to get them brown then a further 1 minute to melt the sugar.

How to deglaze the pan

I’m often surprised how few people have learned to deglaze a pan. Even some experienced cooks give me a blank look when I mention it. It is an absolute must in low-fat cooking (especially if you’re sautéing without any oil). It is also super simple and you may even already do it without knowing what the word for it is.

Fry or sauté your food and/or spices until a dark residue builds up on the bottom. This is sugar and juice from the food and is full of flavour. If you’re browning or caramalising something (say an onion or mushrooms) then don’t deglaze until after the food is also starting to brown.

When the pan is ready to deglaze it should look a little bit like this:

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Then you add your liquid – you can use wine, vinegar, stock, various types of juice or just plain water. In Indian cooking you will often deglaze your hot whole spices with a paste of turmeric and garam masala or similar powdered spices and water.

In this case I’m using red wine vinegar. The liquid will bubble hot and then you can spread it around the pan to pick up all of that caramelised flavour off the bottom and distribute it back into your food. Once you do this all of the sticky stuff should have lifted from the bottom of the pan ready to mix into your meal.

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You can do this more than once because the liquid will evaporate and/or soak back into the food. In this case I let that happen and then browned the mushrooms further. Like so:

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Remember: some foods, like mushrooms, will produce liquid if you expose them to salt. Some button and brown mushrooms will have so much stored water that if you salt them when you would have deglazed them they will actually deglaze themselves!

Bonus: the pan will also be easier to clean. You can also clean pans hot if you have the right kind of brush – effectively deglazing your pan to clean it.