Caramelized onions add an incredible depth of flavor to a dish, but they can be a bit of a touchy subject. You see, a lot of writers and recipe creators around the web will tell you that it can be done in 10 minutes to keep you from clicking away from the article. Here’s the thing: It can’t be done in 10 minutes. Caramelized onions take time. They take at least 45 minutes of stirring. Onions are mostly water, and you have to slowly cook a lot of it out to concentrate the onion’s natural sugars. In order to begin the caramelization process, those sugars have to get up to between 300 and 360 degrees Fahrenheit, but without care, the sugars will burn and produce horrid, acrid flavors. Adding baking soda isn’t really true caramelization either, it’s the Maillard Reaction. The baking soda, creating an alkaline environment for the onions, helps to brown them. This is not true caramelization and won’t produce the same depth of flavor. It takes time and attention. Thankfully, it’s worth it.
The best way to caramelize onions is in a big batch with nothing to do for an hour or two so you can use them at will in any recipe that calls for them when you’re busy again. Since you only need to stir them occasionally, this is a great thing to do while catching up on a favorite TV show. Sure, you could caramelize onions in a crockpot, but it’s going to be a bit soupy. All of that liquid that cooks out of the onions just sits there, diluting the flavor of the finished product. Better to do as The Kitchn does, low and slow in a stainless steel pan, and then use those delicious, candy-like bits of onion in these amazing recipes.
1. Caramelized Onion, Gruyere, and Pepper Bacon Whole Wheat Pizza
This pizza from How Sweet It Is isn’t kidding around. Salty from the bacon, sweet from the onions, and super cheesy all at the same time, but also on a sturdy, crisp whole-wheat crust. If you’ve already caramelized your onions, this pizza is a cinch. If you haven’t, get cracking while the dough rises.
- 1⅛ cups warm water
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2⅔ cups whole-wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 vidalia onions, thinly sliced
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 12 ounces gruyere cheese, freshly grated
Directions: In a large bowl, combine water, yeast, honey, and olive oil. Mix with a spoon, then let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add in 2 cups flour and salt, stirring with a spoon until the dough comes together but is still sticky. Using your hands, form the dough into a ball and work in the remaining flour, kneading it on a floured surface for a few minutes. Rub the same bowl with olive oil then place the dough inside, turning to coat. Cover with a towel and place in a warm place to rise for about 1 to 1½ hours.
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the bacon. Cook just until a bit of the fat is rendered and the bacon is slightly cooked, as it will cook more in the oven. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and place it on a paper towel. Sprinkle it with the pepper. If you’ve already caramelized the onions, skip the rest of this step. If you haven’t, leave the grease in the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and add butter. Add in the onions with the salt and toss to coat. Cover and cook for 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so. After 1 hour, stir in the brown sugar and cook for 15 minutes more. Stir in the garlic. Turn off the heat and add the onions to a bowl. Set aside.
After the dough has risen, punch it down and place it back on the floured surface. Using a rolling pin or your hands, form it into your desired shape and place on a baking sheet or pizza peel. Place the towel back over the dough and let it sit in the warm place for 10 minutes.
If you’re cooking the pizza in a pan without a pizza stone, follow these instructions: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Add half of the cheese to the dough, then cover it with the onions, then the bacon. Add the remaining cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Remove and serve.
If you’re cooking with a pizza stone, preheat your oven with the stone to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and let warm for at least 30 minutes. Slide your pizza in and cook until done, 5 to 15 minutes depending on your liking and your oven. Remove and serve.
2. Grilled Turkey Breast with Caramelized Onion, Cracked Black Pepper, and Vinegar
The sharp, fruity spice of the freshly cracked pepper here really livens the turkey in this recipe from Saveur, while the caramelized onion keeps it from being too harsh. It’s a great main dish for entertaining, but it’s quick and easy enough (especially if the onions are already caramelized) for a weeknight meal. Though the recipe calls for caramelized red onions, you could use whatever you have on hand.
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
- ½ cup caramelized onions, preferably red
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2 cups turkey or chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns, plus freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2¼ pound turkey breast, cut into 4-inch pieces and pounded into ⅙-inch-thick medallions
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Directions: Place onions in a skillet over medium-high heat and add vinegar, bringing it to a boil. Reduce by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add stock and cook until liquid is reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cracked peppercorns until butter is melted; set sauce aside and keep warm.
Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high. Brush turkey with oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill, flipping once, until browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with ½ cup reserved sauce; serve with remaining sauce on the side.
3. Cornbread with Caramelized Apples and Onions
This recipe from Bon Appétit goes the extra mile by caramelizing not only the onions, but also the apples. The rich, nutty sweetness grounded with the earthiness of fresh thyme adds a layer of depth to this northern-style cornbread. Though this makes an incredible side to a pork dish, it’s difficult to not gobble it all down before dinner even starts!
- ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ¼ cup caramelized onions
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium red- or pink-skinned apples such as Pink Lady, thinly sliced
- 5 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, divided
- 1½ cups cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 large eggs
- 1½ cups buttermilk
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt butter in an 8-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pour all but 1 tablespoon out into a small bowl and set aside.
Add the apples to the skillet with 2 tablespoons of sugar and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add onions and 2 teaspoons of thyme, cook for another 2 minutes, and then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Whisk cornmeal, flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in eggs, buttermilk, and ¾ cup reserved melted butter until smooth. Fold in half of onion mixture and scrape batter into reserved skillet. Top with remaining onion mixture and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme.
Bake cornbread until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.
4. Crostini with Balsamic Caramelized Onions, Melted Cheese, and Sage
Have an impromptu get together on your hands? Did family swing through town unexpectedly? Maybe you forgot that there was a game on and you need some snacks, or you’re working all day and don’t have time to make an incredible appetizer from scratch before the awards ceremony starts. No worries, because pre-caramelized onions and this crostini recipe from Cookin’ Canuck are here to save the day. A little pile of caramelized onions in a reduced balsamic glaze over toasted baguette draped with a bit of melted, salty cheese and sprinkled with sage is not only delicious, but quick and easy, too.
- 1 baguette, cut on diagonal into ½-inch slices
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ¾ cup caramelized onions
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- ½ cup water, divided
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
- 3 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese
Directions: Preheat oven to 35o degrees Fahrenheit. Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush with about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the caramelized onions, brown sugar, ¼ cup of water, and balsamic vinegar and bring up to a simmer. Cook until the liquid is reduced and absorbed, then remove from heat.
Using a vegetable peeler, shave off Pecorino Romano slices, one for each baguette slice.
Divide the caramelized onions between the baguette slices and top each one with a slice of cheese.
Place in oven and bake until cheese is beginning to melt, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve.
5. Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions
For a fancier grilled cheese, add a layer of caramelized onions. It will transform the flavor so intensely that you may not even need a cup of soup on the side. In fact, it’s possible that this grilled cheese from The Cooking Channel goes better with a side salad to cut the decadence of rich, melted cheese — preferably Gruyère or Emmental — and sweet onions. For an even more sinfully good sandwich, add a smear of fig jam and a slice of prosciutto.
- ¾ cup caramelized onions
- 8 slices thick bread
- ¼ cup butter, room temperature
- 2 cups grated aged cheddar, Gruyère, or Emmental cheese
Directions: Generously butter both sides of each bread slice. In between two bread slices, pile the caramelized onions between two layers of cheese.
Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. Cook the sandwiches, flipping once, until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
6. French Onion Pastry Puffs
Grab some puff pastry and get ready for one of the best appetizers to ever come out of your kitchen. These little bites of buttery, flaky pastry stuffed with caramelized onions and cheese from Joy the Baker are on the “absolutely can’t live without” list. They can even be made and then frozen when ready to bake, which, combined with pre-caramelized onions, makes you the almighty ruler of the kitchen. While other people are pulling boxed, store-bought appetizers out of their freezers, you’re dishing up pre-made bites of joy right from your kitchen in no time.
- ½ caramelized onions
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons beef broth, beer, or white wine
- two 9-by-9-inch sheets all-butter puff pastry, thawed but still cold
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
- ⅓ cup finely grated Gruyère cheese
Directions: Heat the onions with the thyme, black pepper, and beef broth until they’ve warmed through and absorbed the broth. Set aside.
Unfold the thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out the pastry about ½-inch on all sides. Use a 1½-inch round cookie cutter to cut circles out of the pastry. Two sheets should produce at least 24 pastry rounds.
Brush each round lightly with beaten egg. Top 12 of the pastry rounds with a tiny smear of mustard. Top the mustard with about 1 teaspoon caramelized onions and ½ teaspoon grated cheese.
Carefully place the remaining pastry puffs atop the onion and cheese mixture, brushed egg side down. Pinch ends closed with your fingers, them use the tines of a fork to more securely press the pastry together. At this point, they can be baked or frozen.
Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place pastry on the prepared sheet and brush lightly with egg. Prick the top of each pastry with the tines of a fork for ventilation. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.