Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Nights & Caramelized Onions . . .

Whereas my friends and colleagues are planning dates, get-togethers or a headstart on a roadtrip (especially for this long weekend,) Friday nights for me mean busywork in the kitchen. Sometimes it could be batching up flavored syrups for cocktails & sodas. Or eke out a weekend dish from whatever leftovers I've stashed up throughout the week.

Or, more likely, spend the better part of an hour caramelizing onions to jar up & have on the ready for the next week or so.
I agree with Tom Scocca that there are simply no legit cooking shortcuts around caramelizing onions. It simply takes time and patience. (Yes, there's the "set it and forget it" slow cooker method too - but I always found the flavor & texture results subpar to the pan version, plus there's the room full of acrid rawish onion smell during the early stages of this method.)

However, one preparation shortcut I will take is buying pre-diced onions at the market, given my affinity for crying out a river whenever I have to cut them myself. I agree it doesn't have visual or tactile appeal of the long curls, but it's a compromise I can live with. And hey, these remind me of the grilled onions at In 'n Out!

Also — caramelized onions purists will balk at this — I do add a splash of maple syrup at the end of the process too. Not that the onions needed any additional sweetening after all that time caramelizing, but the syrup does give it a welcoming warm & woodsy depth. Oh, and a splash of balsamic or sherry vinegar to balance out the extra sugar.

But rather than lament about the time wasted on caramelizing onions, I make the best of those 45 minutes. I put on a lengthy podcast, pour a glass of wine or beer and flip through some magazines, with the occasional stir to reassure the onions that, "Yes, I'm here until you turn into burnished, brown morsels of deliciousness."

And that's more satisfying than any Friday night outing in a chaotic & crowded restaurant/bar/club can ever do.

Maple-Balsamic Caramelized Onions
Makes 12 oz of caramelized onions
Prep Time: Approx. 45 minutes

24 oz. diced white onions (or approximately 3 medium onions diced)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Pour oil in a large skillet over medium heat, once it gets hot enough (the oil starts getting runny), add onions and salt. Stir until the onions and thoroughly coated in oil. Lower heat to medium.
2. Stir the onions occasionally (once ever 3-5 minutes) to distribute heat and prevent bottom layer from burning. If it looks too dry, add a splash or two of water.
3. In the meantime, relax! Enjoy a glass of beer/wine. Put on some music or a podcast. Get some leisure reading on.
4. About 40 minutes in, the onions should be a medium to dark brown. Stir in the maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust as needed (more syrup/balsamic/salt).
5. Use immediately or store for up to two weeks in a fridge (if it lasts that long!)