New & Now

Onion Fraud: Consider the Caramelized

0 + Save

If you like it, save it!

Save and organize all of the stuff you love in one place.

Got it!

If you like something…

Click the heart, it's called favoriting. Favorite the stuff you like.

Got it!

There are some foods that simply won't get from stove to table in under an hour. Ever. Take braised short ribs, for example, or picture-perfect macarons. It's just not going to happen.

While this may be tragic for your busy weeknight meals, there is something to be said for taking the time to really go through the steps, the right way, even if that means the long way. It's therapeutic, when so much of our cooking so often becomes hurried, rushed, an effort to appease the hungry mouths around the table.

Consider caramelized onions, the cooking of which is low and slow, relaxing, and forgiving. It’s also massively misrepresented in the recipe world. This week at Slate, Tom Scocca exposes the common deceit of cooking times in recipes for achieving that slouchy sweetness from an onion. He is a bit more blunt:

“Soft, dark brown onions in five minutes. That is a lie. Fully caramelized onions in five minutes more. Also a lie.”

It’s nothing less than onion fraud, and we're inclined to agree with him: promising that onions will caramelize in 10 minutes is like selling vegan cheese as an apt substitute for the real stuff. Or like promising that an off-season tomato won't be a complete, waterlogged affront to produce everywhere.

Amidst his smart tirade against allium liars everywhere, though, you’ll find thoughtful suggestions on how to really cook an onion down. The right way. And yes, this means the long way. But that’s how it should be, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Layers of Deceit from Slate

💬 View Comments ()

Comments (8)


over 2 years ago Lluvia A. Moreno

Here is a link to a video made by Chef Jacob Burton on this very subject. Pretty interesting :)


over 2 years ago Lluvia A. Moreno

Yes caramelized onions in ten minutes, it's possible. Cut your onions in a fine julienne. Use a good heavy bottom skillet or cast iron skillet, they retain more heat. Use butter at the beginning, and let them be for a few minutes. Just like mushrooms they will get caramelized if you leave them alone for a bit. Add water every now and then to remove the brown delicious caramel in the bottom and let the onions absorb it. keep at it for ten minutes. remember high heat, shaking of the of the onions, water and butter.
You get this delicious dark brown soft and sweet tasting onions(AKA Caramelized onions). It differs in texture and flavor, but it still IS a caramelized onion. Or are you going to call a 30 minutes tomato sauce a fake sauce over a "legit" 3 hour tomato sauce? It makes no sense...


over 2 years ago tfacey

Ha! Last batch I made took no less than two and a half hours.


over 3 years ago Panfusine

5 minutes to brown & 10 to caramelize?? what rubbish!.. it took me a whole 1/2 hour on a low flame when I made the onions for the grilled polenta recipe


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

I always wondered about that. It varied so widely, the time, and it seemed recipe writers were just following someone else's lead. I may have given a time for onions to cook on a couple of recipes but in general I don't think I ever do.


over 3 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Well said!


over 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

In light of this, the FOOD52 editors might want to take a look at the green box that pops up in the recipe form's instruction field. ;o)


over 3 years ago cassiem

Kenzi, I love your writing. <3