Kitchen Hacks

How to Hack Caramelized Onions in Just 10 Minutes

They're a little different from the classic—but they get the job done in a pinch.

September 16, 2019

A few years ago my former roommate and current best friend, Julian, created a grilled cheese sandwich that has since become our staple for a comforting, quick dinner, late-night bite, or—with a fried egg on top—brunch after a big night on the town.

The components are simple, yet work together magically:

  • Two slices of buttered bread, preferably sourdough
  • Fig spread (this brand's my favorite)
  • A few thick cuts of creamy Brie
  • Caramelized onions

Pretty much every step of making this fig and Brie grilled cheese takes no time at all—except for the caramelized onions. They are an essential, but time-consuming step. So one night, feeling most impatient, I hacked a much quicker version that takes just 10 minutes or less.

Now, a warning: These aren't going to taste quite like the deeply rich, luscious caramelized onions that have cooked down over gentle heat for 45 minutes or an hour. They are, however, still remarkably soft and sweet, and they'll get the job done in a pinch.


How to Make 10-Minute "Caramelized" Onions

The secret to these "caramelized" onions isn't sugar (though you will need a pinch of it), but rather balsamic vinegar: I find that it cooks down quickly and glazes the onions nicely.

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Top Comment:
“I cut a medium onion and stir it in a teaspoon of butter than added a quarter teaspoon of honey and a pinch of salt. I discovered that I don't have balsamic vinegar, so I sprinkled some sumac on top of the onion and keep stirring. The result was not bad - although it's not soft as I want or expected. But the taste is so so good. ”
— Mariam
Comment

Also: high heat, much higher than you'd normally caramelize onions at. Don't let this scare you off. If it looks at any point like the onions are starting to brown or burn, add a splash of water (I often do this two or three times when I make these) to the pan to help cool things off for a moment and create a little extra jamminess.

You will need:

  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

How it works:

  • While you slice the onion, set a thick-bottomed skillet over medium to medium-high heat and melt the butter (or heat the olive oil).
  • Add the onions and stir for about 2 minutes. They should start to soften and lose their bitterness.
  • Add a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to the onions, and stir to coat.
  • Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and cook until softened and sweet, about 7 or 8 minutes.
  • Enjoy in a grilled cheese sandwich, as a pizza or burger topping, in a frittata or pasta, or anything you can think of.

More Caramelized Onion Magic

Do you have a time-saving cooking hack that you swear by? Share it with us in the comments below!

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Erin Alexander is the Assistant Editor of Partner Content at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.

9 Comments

Mariam September 26, 2019
Hi, Erin.
I made your recipe of the caramelized onion, but I made some changes.
I cut a medium onion and stir it in a teaspoon of butter than added a quarter teaspoon of honey and a pinch of salt. I discovered that I don't have balsamic vinegar, so I sprinkled some sumac on top of the onion and keep stirring.
The result was not bad - although it's not soft as I want or expected. But the taste is so so good.
 
Betty S. October 13, 2019
Get some good balsamic vinegar! You can use it many ways, it’s a basic!
 
Mariam September 19, 2019
Looks delicious.
Can I use honey or molasses instead of sugar, and if I don't have balsamic vinegar what should I use?
Thanks in advance.
 
Mariam September 19, 2019
Seems delicious.
Can I use honey or Molasses instead of sugar? And if I don't have balsamic vinegar what should I use?
Thanks in advance.
 
Lune September 17, 2019
Creme de Cassis is also a great substitute for balsamic vinegar.
 
FrugalCat September 16, 2019
I already do this! I always buy white balsamic vinegar. Glad to see others use it as well.
 
Roger N. September 16, 2019
Are we talking adding IGP or DOP balsamic or a much lesser quality balsamic?
 
Jim September 16, 2019
I have been adding a splash of balsamic vinegar for years to speed up the onions. Little butter, salt , pepper and just a splash makes for great onions. I serve them with meat or over smashed potatoes. you can use a white balsamic if you want the color a little lighter but still with good flavor.
 
Author Comment
Erin A. September 16, 2019
Ohhh I've never tried it with white balsamic but now I'm going to have to! Thanks for the tip, Jim.