Brunch on Sundays is routine in our house. It’s about the only day of the week we can find time to wind down a little. That means little experimenting in the kitchen and with food and the blog. That does take a bit of effort considering how much I love doing those things. That also means simple meals that take little time to put together. But simple doesn’t mean we compromise on flavour. Or quality. On days like that there’s one thing I rely on more than anything else. And that’s my jar of Cheats Caramelized Onions with Thyme in the fridge!
True caramelized onions involve a lengthy cooking process. Caramelization is essentially the removal of water (by evaporation) and the breakdown of sugar. The simple process of cooking onions over a period of time results in the caramelization of all the natural sugars trapped inside them and the end product is intensely more flavourful than what you started out with. Onions are mostly water by weight and as they heat up the water begins to evaporate causing their cells to break down so that the onions become soft and smell good as they release all their aromatic compounds. Eventually when most of the water is gone, caramelization starts to take place. This causes the initial sugars in onions to oxidize and break down into smaller sugars that are sweeter and more flavourful than those starting sugars. The standard way of making caramelized onions is low and slow (low heat, slow cooked), that pulls out richly developed flavours from onions. What I’m going to share with you today however is my quicker, cheater’s method of caramelizing onions for quick and easy meals!
All the different varieties of onion have essentially the same sugars in about the same proportions (sweet onions have a little more sugar as you’d expect) and you can caramelize any of them just as easily. I love using red onions though for that wonderfully intense purple colour you get after cooking them.
To both shorten and enhance the long caramelization process, I add a little sugar at the beginning. I use brown sugar for the more intense caramel taste it lends to the end product. I cook them on medium to medium-high heat, with frequent stirring to prevent the onions from burning, and to make sure they cook evenly. This shaves off a considerable amount of time from the overall process. And finally for that incredible aroma and flavour and a little spicy kick, there’s nothing like a bit of chilli and a few sprigs of thyme!
- 12 oz of thinly sliced Red onions
- 3 tbsp packed brown sugar
- ½- 1 tbsp of chilli flakes (I like using 1 tbsp as caramelized sugars can mellow down the spiciness a little)
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
- ¼ cup vegetable oil (or any neutral oil)
- In a pan, heat the oil on medium-medium high heat and add the sliced onions.
- Heat the onions till they soften - a few minutes.
- Add the sugar, chilli, thyme and about ½ tsp of salt.
- Keep moving the onions around in the pan continually, while cooking the onion so that they do not burn - this step takes about 10- 15 minutes. See notes below.
- When the onions start to caramelize and darken in colour, lower the heat and continue to cook further until onions are soft and completely caramelized (and not burnt!) - about 5 more minutes roughly..
- Add more salt to taste (if required)
- Transfer the onions into a heat proof jar and let it cool. You can store this in the fridge.
To be honest though, I didn’t always like caramelized onions. I remember when I was small my mom used to pack my lunch for school and on days I had caramelized onion sandwiches I inevitably ended up trading them with my friends for their lunches. But time has indeed worked its magic on me in terms of my taste for caramelized onions and also the way I cook them. And there is perhaps nothing as versatile as caramelized onions either. They are perfect with sandwiches, pizzas, meat (ever tried them with steak or grilled chicken? Yum!), fish, pasta, fried rice, cooked vegetables and even with crackers! What’s my absolute favourite way though? Why, I thought you’d never ask! 🙂
I love spreading the caramelized onions on top of my favourite crusty bread slices that I’ve toasted lightly, and then top it with my favourite cheese sauce and Jalapeno and broil it for a few minutes till the cheese melts and turns golden brown. Add a glass of mimosa to that and it’s a meal fit for a King, people!
You could even miniaturize these with little crostini slices which are guaranteed to be a huge hit at parties!
And don’t be hesitant to cook more than you think you’ll be eating either. These can easily go in a little bottle or jar and then saved for later in the fridge. And before you know it you’ll be adding spoonfuls of caramelized onions to everything you eat, not just because you can, but because they truly elevate the flavours of everything they come in contact with!
I will be sharing my Cheats Caramelized Onions with Thyme recipe on Foodie Fridays and Fiesta Fridays this week. The lovely ladies I have been lucky enough to connect with at Fiesta Fridays and Foodie Fridays are another reason I look forward to Fridays now! They share amazing recipes that I just wish I could eat all at once, every day of the week!
What’s your quick and simple go-to dish/snack/condiment in your fridge? Do let me know in the comments!
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