Caramelized onions are in our Condiment Hall of Fame (right between Sriracha mayo and honey mustard). Why do we rank them so highly? Let us take you through the play-by-play: They transform burgers from generic to gourmet, omelets from standard to sa-weet, and toast from dull to delish. Basically, they’re the final touch that kicks any dish up a notch.
We think this sweet spread should be a staple in every kitchen. So don’t be intimidated to make your own batch! You don’t need a series of cooking lessons to DIY caramelized onions, all you need is a little oil, water, salt, and a love of good eats.
1. Peel the outer layer.
Start with two whole onions. Using just enough pressure with the knife to break through the outer peel, cut the onions end to end. This way you can yank the skin off easily.
2. Trim and halve.
Once peeled, halve the onions and trim both ends to remove the root and the pointed shoot.
3. Cut into uniform slices.
Your goal is to have slices of the same size so they cook evenly. To do this, place the onion halves flat-side down on the cutting board and cut them across in 1/4-inch slices.
1. Get set up.
Gather the olive oil, salt, measuring spoons, and two cups of water, and set them by the stove where you’ll be cooking. In a stainless steel skillet, warm two teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat.
2. Heat the onions.
Add all of the onion slices to the pan and lower the heat to medium-low. (It’s OK to have an onion pile-up. The slices will cook down.)
3. Start salting.
Add a 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. The salt will draw the water out of the onions so they develop a richer flavor.
4. Stir often.
Don’t pause here to snap a bunch of pics (#onion4days) and get lost down an Instagram rabbit hole. You need to stir these guys every 5 to 10 minutes so the onion pile-up gets evenly heated.
5. Add water to deglaze the pan.
As soon as you notice the onions coating the pan with their sticky sugars—also known as “the fond” by chef-y types—take a tablespoon of water from the two cups you set aside, and use it to deglaze the pan. To do this, simply use a wooden spoon to move the water around and release the onions from the bottom.
6. Repeat steps 3 and 4.
Allow the water to cook down until you see more sticky residue developing on the pan, then repeat the deglazing process with another tablespoon of water. (Tip: Every three or four times you add water, hit the onions with a pinch of salt. This will keep extracting water out of the onions and concentrate their flavor.) Keep stirring and deglazing until all of the onions are brown and the water is gone.
6. Serve and eat—or store.
Once the water is gone, the onions are ready to eat! Warm caramelized onions are perfectly delicious straight out of the pan, but they can also be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for seven to 10 days (or in the freezer for a month). Reheat them on low power in a microwave straight from the fridge or on the defrost setting if taken from the freezer.
- Onions cook down a lot. Two raw bulbs will give you only 1/2 cup caramelized onions.
- This whole process takes about 45 minutes, give or take. The lower the heat, the slower the onions will cook and the softer their texture will be. If you prefer a firmer texture, you can cook the onions on (slightly) higher heat, and they'll caramelize a bit quicker.
- You can use table salt, but kosher salt is considered to have better flavor and is easier to measure by the pinch.
- Use a stainless steel skillet. Don’t substitute a nonstick pan or you won’t develop any color on your onions—which is sad.
Recipe steps provided by chef Sandra Palmer.