I'm a firm believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Today I read an article titled "A Better Way to Caramelize Onions". I just don't get the reasoning behind it and would never do it myself, but I'd love to hear other Picklers thoughts on it. Am I being a food snob by just sticking to the tried and true way?

  • Posted by: javal
  • January 25, 2011


ChefDaddy January 26, 2011
Thanks innoabrd! Yes, conservation of flavor. Never sacrifice quality for speed. Case in point-Fast food.
innoabrd January 26, 2011
can we define that as "ChefDaddy's first law of the conservation of flavour"?
ChefDaddy January 26, 2011
I've learned short cuts never result in an improvment but more often they result in a lessor product and usually you have to wiegh the time saved for a lesser product. I am almost sure that in cooking that you will not be able to do something faster with the " Same" results. Just my .02 cents.
betteirene January 26, 2011
The "onion jam" experiment was not for soup, but for homemade, from-scratch French onion dip for Super Bowl parties. In his words, "Once the onions are completely broken down to a deep brown, jam-like consistency, they're blended together with mayonnaise and sour cream, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, and you're done."

The original article with his step-by-step account of caramelizing 20 pounds of onions: http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/01/the-food-lab-real-french-onion-dip-homemade-super-bowl-recipe.html
innoabrd January 26, 2011
I'm with ChefDaddy on this. Besides, when I go to all that trouble, I'm not really looking for onion mush.

I don't like Cook's Illustrated either. Grump, grump.
Fantastic M. January 25, 2011
I tried it tonight. It works well, but is only useful for certain applications. As pointed out above and in the original post, the end result is like onion jam. The process completely obliterates the cell structures of the onion.
As in the original post, this end product is perfect for flavoring some other medium where you want to onion completely integrated...in the original post the point of the exercise was to make onion dip (ie, mix it with mayo) or possibly soup.
This type of thing is not good if you want to see nice whole strips or chunks of browned onion for toppings or garnish or whatever.
hardlikearmour January 25, 2011
It seems if you can get the product you want in half the time, that's an improvement. Just my opinion, which is worth about 2 cents, though!
ChefDaddy January 25, 2011
How can you improve on caramalized onion? There is a very specific target I am trying to hit when I make what in my opinion is the "perfect stage" of caramelized onion. I know how to get what I want already. So I don't see any point in learning or doing something new. I have heard of sugar, water, coke but now baking soda? It kinda of reminds me of when the microwave came along. A "new" way to cook.
Anitalectric January 25, 2011
I think all these shortcuts are clever and can work for some recipes.

I sometimes add sweetener (agave) to the onions when caramelizing, not to speed the process but to enhance the flavor. But I do so at the end of cooking so they don't stick to the pan.

Baking soda I have not tried because it has a distinctive flavor all its own and I just want to keep the flavor of the onions pure.

In regards to water, this method does work and I use it (sometimes using beer for added flavor). The problem with it is texture. Look at the last picture in that blog post. The onions come out as mush, or more nicely put, like onion "jam".

I find that a really easy way to caramelize onions and let them keep their structural integrity is toast them in the oven, like the crispy onions used to top mujadarra, the Middle-Eastern lentil dish. You just toss them in a little olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake until they are browned. You may have to stir them once or twice, but they come out delicious and slightly crisp. There is a great recipe for this in Veganomicon.

So if your recipe is something like a dip or a soup, go with the water/beer shortcut. But if you want to use your caramelized onions as a topping or a mix-in for a recipe, go with the baking method.
hardlikearmour January 25, 2011
Sounds like a great hack to me! If it cuts the time in half and produces potentially better results then why not? Just because something works one way, doesn't mean it can't be improved on.
foongfest January 25, 2011
You're just old-school and there's nothing wrong with that! :)
I like old school and the whole process of cooking (however tedious they may be sometimes) but I'm generally open to improving certain techniques, within limits.
Anything by Sandra Lee or lazy things that compromise flavors like pre-cut onions is a a no-no for me.
Kenji's (contributor at serious eats) articles tend to be pretty solid in my book.I think he works a bit with America's Test Kitchen so if Cook's Country's not your thing, I guess that wouldn't be either.
Fantastic M. January 25, 2011
I read the same article. I believe it is in the interest of a better product in a shorter amount of time. I usually use a bit of water as he recommends, but I hadn't considered adding a bit of baking soda. I will have to try that.
I don' t think it is a case fixing something that is broken...more improving something to make it better.
I imagine you are a fan of Cook's Country either. :-)
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