How to Caramelize Onions

by Lerrina Collins

What can turn a spicy, smelly vegetable into a sweet, flavor-enhanced delight? Caramelizing! At least when it comes to onions. While some people enjoy onions any way they can get them, most have learned cooking, particularly grilling or sauteing, changes the onion's chemical makeup, diminishing its strong flavor and even adding a hint of sweetness.

Caramelized onions make a great addition to many recipes. They can be served on pizza, used as the base for onion soup, added to sandwiches, served alongside turkey or chicken entrees, or placed on top of your favorite steak. Caramelizing onions is a straight-forward process. However, because the onions are cooked over high heat, attention to detail is important if you are to avoid a burnt result.

The Ingredients

Thinly sliced onions (most recipes call for three or four large onions) -most prefer yellow or white onions

Some kind of fat (a mild flavored oil or butter are commonly used)

A large skillet

The Process

Heat your fat over medium-high to high heat. Use a small amount of fat, just enough to cover the bottom when heated through. If you are using oil, it is ready when the surface ripples. If you are using butter, it is ready when the foaming subsides. Add your onions and stir to coat them with the fat. Continue cooking and stirring over medium-high to high heat.

You can speed the caramelizing process by adding a pinch of salt to remove some of the onions' moisture. Be careful. If you add too much, your onions will begin to stick and burn. Continue stirring the onions. Soon they will begin to turn brown. This is exactly what you want.

After 5 minutes, you can add a little sugar (1 tablespoon sugar for 4 large onions works great) to speed the caramelization process. If your onions begin to stick to the pan bottom, you can also add a little dry red wine. The liquid will evaporate quickly but the flavor will remain. In addition, the liquid will help you loosen the stuck onion bits from your pan's surface.

Reduce your heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden brown - about 15 to 20 minutes.

The Recipe
Turkey Tenderloins With Caramelized Onions (serves 6)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 turkey breast tenderloins (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
4 large onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the turkey with salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Cook the turkey in the oil about 5 minutes, turning once, until it is brown on both sides.

Pour the wine into the skillet; reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes or until the turkey juice runs clear when the thickest pieces are cut. Remove the turkey from the skillet and keep warm.

Melt the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onions in the butter 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in brown sugar, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown.

Slice turkey. Serve turkey with onions.

Recipe Resource: Betty Crocker's New Cookbook