How to caramelize onions

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OK, so an old hunter can learn new tricks. Onions are a favorite food of mine, sweet onions, especially. Caramelizing onions is a new-learned skill. Don’t know why it took so long to discover this interesting and versatile food.

The exact reason this new skill came to mind eludes me. One day a skillet with a little olive oil and three, sliced and raw onions, was on a stove burner turned to high. They were monitored and turned from time to time. When they were beginning to stick to the skillet, the heat was turned to low.

The white onions began to turn brown as they cooked. Eventually they were deemed finished and served on a sandwich. These onions, extremely hot when raw, were now sweet.

This process was stored in my memory bank, but not considered significant until recently processing onions for The Venison Sandwich. A number of extra onions were at hand after writing about the recipe and some were starting to turn.

Wasting food is a situation avoided in my household. The solution was to make them into caramelized onions for future use.

The onions are peeled, cut in half and then into thinly sliced half-rounds. However, some people chop the onions into smaller pieces. Then heaped into a skillet, along with a bit of olive oil. My skillet is 12-inches in diameter and a couple of inches deep.

The burner is turned to high and the onions turned frequently. When they were almost to burn, the burner was turned to medium.

Don’t rush the caramelizing process. Plan on turning the onions and scrapping the bottom of the pan often. Let them cook for several minutes and then turn and scrape the pan. Then repeat the process.

The onions will begin to turn brown, not because they have burned, but, rather, because the sugar in the onions will caramelize. After all, caramel, the candy, is made by heating a variety of sugars.

The entire process, beginning with raw onions, can take 45 minutes to an hour. What is so appealing about these onions? Even the hottest raw onions will end up sweet.

Beginning with a large amount of onions is practical, because they will be reduced during the cooking process. My first batch of three onions cooked down to about three ounces.

These days I’m filling the large skillet to overflowing, cramming in as much as possible. Turning such a large batch can be tricky, but go slow, using two turners or spatulas, if necessary. The batch will turn easier if chopped, but the half-rounds, ending up as long onion pieces, appeals to me.

All of these onions will be used, but perhaps not on the day they are cooked. The extra finished onions are placed in re-sealable bags in three-ounce sizes and placed in the freezer.

There are several uses for caramelized onions, including any type of sandwich, pizza topping, in omelets, as an appetizer ingredient, in grilled cheese, etc. Raw onions still appeal to me and are used often in my cooking, but caramelized onions are also now available by opening the freezer.

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