You never know how much time goes into the sweet, sticky shreds atop your perfect patty melt or tarte flambée until you caramelize an onion for the first time. You also never know how little effort goes in until you learn this simple but very important technique. Long story short (and depending on the conditions — pan, heat, onion thickness — it can be a long story), slice onions, heat butter or oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or pan, add onions, don't touch, continue to not touch, don't touch a little more, then flip and do the same with emphasis on not touching until your onions are caramelized.
Like French onion soup? Little known fact: it's just caramelized onions with good-quality, preferably homemade stock and a little white wine simmered together for a while. The hard part is getting the cheese just right. Now that the cat's out of the bag on that…
One more tip: if you start tearing up while slicing six onions, don't take it as a sign of weakness. My favorite way to stave off the allium weepies is by mocking them right back — stick your tongue out while you're slicing. The fumes affect the moist parts of your face, so intercept those pesky propanethial-s-oxide molecules before they hit your eyes.
- 6 large onions, all of one variety (red, Vidalia, Spanish, etc.)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil or clarified butter, (using regular butter may cause your onions to burn more easily)
- Slice onions into thin rings using the sharpest knife you have.
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot or pan (cast-iron works wonders) over medium-high heat, then add the oil or butter.
- When hot, add onions, stir briefly to coat, lower heat to medium and leave alone for 15 whole minutes.
- After 15 minutes of not touching at all (don't even look at them), flip bottom layer to the top using a wide spatula. Cook for another 15 minutes without touching.
- When most of the onions are a deep golden-brown, stir mixture together, lower heat to lowest setting and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until all onions are dark brown and completely caramelized, up to 15 more minutes.