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On Caramelizing the Humble Onion

Onions are part of the Allium genus which includes lilies, chives, leeks, and garlic. Onions are indispensable in cookery and especially in soup stock. A myriad of onions are cultivated worldwide; white, yellow, red, sweet, and so forth.

At this time of the year you’d be forgiven thinking we’d all be exhausted of going through a winters worth of stored onion sacks. Nothing could be further from the truth. We love the humble onion, its sibling the potato, cousin carrot, aunt beet and weird uncle parsnip but we don’t talk about him much.

Anyway, have you come across the cipollini onion? Its a bite sized popper great for roasting. The cipollini is small like a shallot only more squat. In an onion choir cipollini sings alto. It sits between the richness of the cooking onion and the zing of the shallot. Mellow and benign all on its own. Cipollinis are arguably the best onion to caramelize.

Cipollini Onion
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Caramelized onions of any kind are magnificent. Caramelizing is simply sauteing except on low heat for longer periods of time. The process slowly breaks down the starch in the food giving it the opportunity to migrate and caramelize, which in the end magically and sweetly encrusts the pile o’ goo left at the bottom of your saute pan.

Side note: Avoid non stick pans. They’re convenient but no more so than a well seasoned skillet. Which is traditional and honest. farmersdotter uses an enameled iron pot to caramelize onions to perfection. Besides, where do you think your non-stick coating goes as it wears off your pan? Hmm? Celebrity chefs who use them have probably endorsed the hell out of them. Get them out of your kitchen.

To prepare: Roughly chop a few onions then lightly saute with butter and olive oil on low to medium-low heat until nicely brown and tender. You’ll begin to see the little blackened bits of fond stuck to the bottom of your saute pan. This is when you know you’re so close to ooh la la gooey goodness time. This is what you’ve been waiting for. That, and for it to be five o’clock somewhere. Cheers!

This is the time to scrape up the fond and incorporate its essentialness. Yes, it is not a word but it works. Essentialness. Scrape up the fond and incorporate with a little vermouth, oyster sauce, pinch of salt, and a squage of cracked pepper… Dunno, look it up.

farmersdotter Sautes Onions with Good Stuff
farmersdotter Saute Onions with Good Stuff

You can add pan roasted spices, herbs and all sorts of good stuff but don’t overdo the seasoning or additives cause honestly, caramelized onion prepared with just butter is simply sublime. farmersdotter keeps a store of caramelized onion handy in the fridge so she can…

Okay, at this point I should (avoid litigation says the pointed headed guy in the three-piece) point out that onions are a low acid food, and as such safe preservation requires pressure canning and a safe recipe from a qualified source and blah blah blah…

…so she can add them to a recipe at a moments notice because when you are in a rush to prepare a dish the last thing you need is to slow cook onions on low heat… after peeling them… and crying… with guests walking up the drive… I digress. Simply put, use them anywhere you would use a condiment.

Onions love mushrooms. For the preparation above add chopped mushrooms to the onions. Just prior to plating add a healthy amount of freshly chopped spinach, Chinese broccoli, asparagus, bok choy, and parsley or any combination thereof. When in season we love to add our garlic scapes from the Russian red garlic grown on our farm. Continue to saute but for only for a moment or two. The vegetables need to retain a crunch. At plating top with lime zest.

Saute Onion with Mushroom
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Behold the steaming bowl of goodness that ups the umami game to a whole new level. Like most dishes in a bowl farmersdotter adds a dollop or ten of our organic crushed chilli and garlic to take goodness to greatness.

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