And why? Are recipe writers afraid that people won't try the recipe if it will take a long time? I guess so. It's really too bad, though. There's a big difference between slightly burned onions and caramelized onions and the recipe is not going to turn out the way the writer intended if cooks are taking shortcuts. Then everyone loses.
But you're thinking, "hold up there, Jody, you've done this yourself on this very blog, have you not?" Ummmmm. Yeah, you're right. I have done this. On this recipe for a delicious caramelized onion and mushroom brie appetizer, you might notice that while I don't specify in the instructions how long it takes, the top of the recipe says it will take only 25 minutes. Totally wrong. And embarrassing. Needless to say, this will be remedied.
So here's what I did: I cut up an onion and caramelized it. I timed it and took photos of the whole thing so you can see what it should look like the longer the onions cook. Let me also suggest that you try this method to better dice an onion. Halve the onion pole to pole, peel and trim, leaving root end intact; make horizontal slices across the onion 1/2 inch apart, stopping short of the root. Repeat with vertical cuts perpendicular to the trimmed end. Then cut slices like you normally would, et voila! Uniform dice. If this is all old news to you, then you're already ahead and I want to know what other kitchen advice you have. E-mail me.
Start with a pan over medium low heat, add a fat. Butter and olive oil are great, but since you're cooking on lower heat, you can use just butter. The milk solids won't burn, but will add some color.
00:00 Add one diced onion and a small pinch of kosher salt, this will draw out some of the water and add flavor. Stir somewhat regularly while cooking.
00:15 The onions have just a hint of color and have a little less volume. They taste like cooked onions, nothing special.
00:30 The onions are lightly browned and have still less volume. You could add a pinch of sugar here to increase the color. They are starting to taste caramelized.
00:45 The onions are caramelized and golden and have about half the volume they started with. The flavor is very sweet and has a lot of depth.
1:00 The onions are deeply caramelized. This amount of time is overkill, but produced still more delicious flavor. In fact, a quality control bite or two may have made the end volume of onions look smaller than it actually is.
So what's the lesson here? You might be able to produce caramel colored onions and reasonably quickly, but the caramelized flavor comes from long, slow cooking. You have to put in the time. My suggestion: if you need caramelized onions, get those started before you do anything else, then do all your other prep. Or just plan a relaxing hour tending the stove with a good book or cup of coffee. Then take those caramelized onions and put them on something delicious like grilled cheese . . . (coming soon)
What do you cook that takes a while, but is well worth the time?