Onions. We love them for the flavors they give us and we hate them for the tears we shed when slicing them. The humble onion is a vegetable that is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Allium. Its close relatives include the garlic, leek and chive.
Most recipes call for a red or white onion but at this point in my cooking career I stray away from what recipes say because there are so many, many tasty alternatives. I have found that white onions lend themselves best to long cooking dishes like a roast in the crockpot as they seem to survive the cooking process more intact. I use red onions for pickling and when I need just a bit of spice and don’t have a pepper on hand. I am a southern girl so my heart will always lie with the Vidalia but they aren’t available year round so I have found acceptable substitutes in the leeks and shallots, leeks for their subtle garlic notes and the shallot because it is so mild with its flavor. Chives I have only ever used as a garnish, I suppose they could be used in flavoring stock but I find them to be a bit odd for cooking with, they get weird and stringy or disintegrate.
What are you going to to with the onions? This is the best question to ask before you set about cooking, are you going to be topping something or are you going to be stirring therm in? Topping onions can be cook to your absolute liking and stir in onions need to be cooked to just under your liking because they will continue to cook once you stir them into whatever you are making.
Before we talk about cooking the onions let’s talk a little bit about why we want to cook onions before we cook with them because I get that this can seem like an extra step when you are just putting the onions into a dish but if you can coax a little extra flavor out of them then what does it hurt? Those onions you get on top of your steak or in your soup or fajitas at a restaurant, they have been loved in more than one way and you can get your food closer to their food if you layer in the love! And softening the onions up a bit before we add them to a dish breaks down the fibers and gets them more open to receiving the flavor of the dish! *This has kind of backfired on me however because my family likes my food more than what we can order out so use your powers wisely*
. Let’s get into talking about cooking these babies! Almost always I will be using a caramelized onion so we are going to talk about how to make this happen.
Slice your onions thin. Unless you are making onion rings there is no need for you to have giant slices of the onion. Once you have your slices let’s cook..
Let’s start with topping onions. These guys need to be cooked down to within an inch of their life and are open to receiving any flavor you can throw at them. These onions are also the base of French Onion Soup.
Start with a pan on the stove over medium heat and whatever fat you choose be it olive, grapeseed or plain vegetable oil and get that oil to a heat where it is just shimmering, the stage after shimmering is burning so you need to stand and watch the pan. Once the oil is shimmering add the onions and a pinch of salt and stir. Slow is the key. Yes, you will be tempted to turn up the heat but try your best not to! This kind of onion candy can take up to 30 minutes so put a dab of patience in your pocket and wait for the reward!
Now for stirring in onions.Soup, Stew, Sunday gravy or whatever long simmering sauce: chop the onions into a large cube size and unless you are using a crock pot you can cook these onions in the same pot that you make the rest of the dish in. Get either the pot or a skillet and over medium heat add the oil and get it to a shimmer then add the onions and a pinch of salt and pepper. This layer of love doesn’t take but maybe 5 minutes and you can make it taste however you want. Making Beef Stew? Add salt, pepper and whatever other seasonings you plan on adding to the meat that you will also be cooking in this pot to get it a little brown and seasoned before you add the rest of the stew stuff. Making Sunday gravy? Add salt, pepper and oregano. Soup? Same idea as the gravy, which ever seasonings you are going to season the soup with add a bit to the onions.
Fajitas and Philly Cheesesteaks also love onions and for this kind of dish you can make the slices thicker than for the topping onions earlier and I like to start these kind of onions in butter before I add any other oil because butter gives them something magical that olive oil doesn’t . These thicker slices will need closer to 8 minutes on medium heat, they don’t need to be cooked down too much because we are going to add the meat to them and let them get all sexy together but I like a little bit of crunch to the onions so if you like less crunch knock that 8 minutes up to 10 or 11.
I can’t think of anything else really but if ya’ll have question feel free to ask them in the comments and I am more than happy to help!
Thanks ya’ll!! Happy cooking!