To Caramelized Onions
by Allana Mortell
I am in a serious relationship with onions. It all began when I was a kid watching my dad order hamburgers with ketchup and raw onions. He wouldn’t have his burgers any other way—so of course, I wouldn’t either.
As my palate began to mature, I came to the realization that there was life beyond raw onions. (Sorry, Dad.) It wasn’t that I decided to stop eat- ing raw onions on some random day, but rather I slowly started to discover all the potential and possibilities that onions have to offer. From one bite of my grandma’s stewed balsamic chicken with peppers and onions, to cook- ing down tomatoes with onions and sugar for a tomato basil pasta sauce, I appreciated and began to look forward to cooking and eating onions on a regular basis. You just won’t find me taking a bite out of a raw onion as if it were an apple. That’s where I draw the line.
I’ll admit, however, my first foray into cooking caramelized onions was a bit of a mess. I was attending a potluck and in charge of the appetizers and naturally, I was running late. In following a recipe for a crostini topped with caramelized onions, fig jam, and goat cheese, I figured the recipe seemed easy enough so I’d get ready first and then quickly assemble the crostini before walking out the door.
I’m sure you know where this is going. As my knife carefully sliced one half of the onion, the waterworks began, taking my mascara with it. There I was, standing alone in my kitchen, sniffling, sobbing, and trying not to cut off a finger. In that moment, I probably hated onions and kind of hated myself. Now, I just use safety goggles.
Even when I’m out to eat, caramelized onions continue to call my name. Spotting them on a menu, even as a measly garnish, I’ll have no choice but to order. I feel a personal responsibility to find out how the caramelized onions will enhance, or maybe even take away from, the dish. Foie Gras with Caramelized Onion Jam surprised and delighted my taste buds in a way I never thought possible. And trust me, I never order Foie Gras.
See, that’s the thing with these sweet little suckers—their versatility allows them to not just shine in burg- ers and crostini toppers but to also be the unexpected stars of risotto and pasta sauces. Because onions, particularly white and yellow varieties, are so naturally sweet, the cooking process of low and slow over an extended period of time draws out those natural sugars, transforming them into a copper-toned, I-can’t-believe-these-are-onions treat. They’re a delicacy and should be treated as such.
Caramelized onions are clearly very special to my life. I adore cooking them, (despite their tendency to ruin perfectly applied mascara), and swoon over them in restaurants. While I’ll only eat raw onions on a variety of occasions (mostly for Father’s Day and his birthday, because that’s what he’ll request), in reality, I do have him to thank for my onion obsession. Sure, you may have to work for your caramelized onions, but I think most onion lovers can agree, they’re worth the wait and tears.