Food Tips

Easy: How to caramelize onions

How to caramelize onions

Food Tips

Easy: How to caramelize onions

All you need is time and patience to make the perfect caramelized onions. Here's how.

Golden and sweet, yet super savoury, caramelized onions add depth of flavour to so many dishes. They make the best pizza, burger and sandwich toppers and turn plain old cooked pasta or potatoes into gourmet dishes.

And guess what? They're really easy to make! You'll need a large skillet, some onions, a pat of butter, a pinch of salt, and some time. It's a long process (40 to 50 minutes), but absolutely worth the wait. Time and patience means no scorched onions and the ultimate in flavour and texture. Here's how:

First, choose the right skillet. For best results, use a large heavy-bottomed cast iron or stainless steel skillet. If the skillet is too small the onions are crowded and will steam instead of caramelize, meaning the process takes more time. A nonstick skillet will work if that's all you've got, but you won't get the same sticky bits (called the fond in chef speak) on the bottom of the skillet that really add flavour.

Slice the onions. Trim the stem and root ends of the onions and peel away the skin. Slice the onion, lengthwise, thinly (about 1/4 inch or just less). You can use 1 to 4 onions in a large skillet. More onions will take longer to caramelize and fewer onions will take less time, simply keep your eye on the skillet depending on how many you start with. Yellow cooking onions are the most common and versatile onion to use for caramelizing. However, you can use any onion each with subtly different flavours and colours, experiment to find your favourite.

Melt butter (about 1 tbsp) in skillet over medium heat.

Add the onions when the butter stops bubbling and stir a few times to coat the onions. Cook over medium heat (reduce to medium low if the onions start to look or smell like they're burning), stirring once every 5 minutes or so, until the onions are ultra tender, a rich golden colour and have a delightful sweetness. At 10 minutes the onions are still plump and mostly white with just a few golden edges. At 20 minutes look for the onions beginning to shrink, become a little sticky and deepen in colour. At 30 minutes you'll see that the onions are a deeper, richer colour, have really started to shrink and become almost jam-like. The bits are beginning to stick to the bottom, use your spoon or spatula to scrape them up when you stir. At 40 minutes, taste the onions and check the colour. You're looking for meltingly tender onions with a rich golden hue and a sweet taste. Add a few more minutes (up to 10) depending on where they're at now. Note all the bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet in the photo below. These are good!


Deglaze the skillet and season the onions. To deglaze means to add liquid (you can use water, wine or vinegar, about 1/4 cup) to the skillet and stir for a minute or two in order to scrape up all the delicious bits (fond) that are stuck to the bottom of the skillet. The liquid will bubble up and steam, releasing those nuggets of flavour. Often in cooking, we are fearful of things stuck to the bottom of the pan, but unless it's scorched and totally black, this is where the true flavour lies. Once deglazed, stir in a pinch of salt, taste and add more as needed.

Let the onions cool. Then use as you desire. It's a good idea to make a large batch. Simply thaw before using. These are great to have on hand for quick pizza toppings or to stir into an easy pasta dish.

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Food Tips

Easy: How to caramelize onions