Caramelizing is a method of cooking a vegetable slowly until the natural sugars develop a sweet, complex flavor. The deeply flavorful, sweet taste of caramelized onions enhances many main dishes, side dishes, appetizers, or toppings for pastries or pizza. This is an easy method, just be sure to keep an eye on them so that they do not burn.
The cooking time differs for every variety of onion. For this process, choose the sweeter varieties like Walla Walla and Vidalia. They caramelize more quickly than others. Determine the number of people you will be serving. Normally, three of four onions willbe good for six people.
Start by cutting the onions into long 1/4-inch strands. Here’s a tip to prevent teary-eyes while slicing the onions. Cut the onion into half then slice vertically from the root or basal plate towards the tunic without having to remove the roots. That is the part that contains the substance that hurts our eyes. Do this with the rest of the onions. When you’re done, just slice off the root part and the strands will be ready for cooking.
Get a large non-stick or cast iron skillet and pour olive oil (use two tablespoons for each large onion) and heat the pan to medium. Place the onions into the pan and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Stir continuously to ensure thatall the pieces will be covered with olive oil well. The more onions in your pot, the longer the cooking time will be. Spread the onions evenly throughout the pan. As the onions sweat, the sugar that is in them will come out. You have stir occasionally, about once every minute. It will start caramelizing in about 30 minutes. Add an occasional tablespoon of hot water if the pan becomes too dry. The onions are ready when they turn into a light caramel brown. Some people prefer a rich mahogany brown color. Just make sure the onions don’t get burned, or else you need to start from the beginning. What you would try to achieve is to transform them into an aromatic, nutty brown treat. If you over-caramelize the onion, you will get a bitter, burned flavor but if you keep your heat low this should not be a problem.
Caramelized onions are best served warm. They have a tendency to get thick and have a different texture if they cool off too much before you eat them. Caramelized onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days to be used for other dished like pastries or pizza.