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Know Your Browned Onions

January 6th, 2011 - By Lari Robling

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A quick search on browning onions turns up contradictory advice: cook covered, don’t cook covered; add liquid, don’t add liquid; use butter only, use oil only. Well, you get the dilemma. Here’s what works for me, so I stick with it even if the kitchen science gurus Alton Brown and Harold McGee might not agree.

To slice my onions thinly, I cut them in half lengthwise and place the halves on the flat side. Cut parallel to the root end to get nice, even half moon pieces.

I like an iron skillet, but you can use a sauté pan. Whatever you use, it should be large enough to make a single layer of onions. Heat on high and add some olive oil and butter, enough to liberally cover the bottom of your pan—then add your onions. It should sizzle.

Next I sprinkle a pinch of sugar—and I do mean a pinch, the goal here is not to sweeten the onions but help with the caramelization process. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt as this helps break down the onions to cook a little faster.

Reduce heat so that they are cooking gently. Be patient. There’s no getting around that perfectly browned onions take a little time. Keep an eye on them and stir every so often to get nice even coloring.

Photo by Flicker user missy & the universe / CC BY-NC 2.0

4 Responses to Know Your Browned Onions

  • Janelle Allspach

    I like the bit about adding a pinch of sugar and salt for caramelization. Score extra points for using a cast iron pan!!!

  • Fit Staff

    Thanks for the comment! and cast iron is definitely where it’s at. If you need advice on caring for those awesome pans you should check this out too.

  • Lari Robling

    Thanks Janelle! Do you have a healthy recipe using browned onions you want to share?

  • Christina Stasiuk

    I like the idea of adding a pinch of sugar for carmelization. I need to try that as the only option that has worked for me to get beautiful browned onions is to add more butter! Not good when I am trying to eat healthier. Will let you know how that works out for me.

Photo by Flicker user Yolise / CC BY-NC 2.0

About Lari Robling
Lari Robling's food career had its early beginnings as a home ec teacher for the visually impaired. Later, she decided to become a food professional and worked for caterers and restaurants. Lari landed her first job in a test kitchen for a small health food publication, Delicious! magazine. From there, she began a freelance career as a food stylist and food consultant. She is also the author of Endangered Recipes: Too Good to Be Forgotten.

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