YouTube
Kitchen Smarts: How to Caramelize Onions in Record Time
Caramelized onions can take more than an hour of careful cooking over a low flame. Our technique cuts that time in half.
04-11-2018
America's Test Kitchen

Caramelized onions improve everything from roast beef tenderloin and mashed potatoes to burgers and, of course, French onion soup. But their sweet, complex flavor can come with a cost—sometimes more than an hour of careful cooking over a low flame.

In this video, part of our "Kitchen Smarts" series on our Youtube channel, Cook’s Illustrated test cook Lan Lam shares our technique for preparing caramelized onions in less than half of that time. To do this, we reviewed the science and questioned each step of the traditional approach. Here are some of our findings:

  • Cut the onions pole to pole instead of crosswise: Slicing the onions through their root end prevents them from breaking down too much during cooking.

  • Start cooking the onions with water over high heat and covered: Surrounding the onions with steam (and submerging some of them in the added water) heats them more quickly and thoroughly than just relying on the heat generated by the cooking surface of the skillet alone.

  • Press and stir the onions until deeply browned: Since browning occurs only where the onions are in direct contact with the hot pan, gently press the softened onions into the bottom and sides of the skillet to allow for maximum contact. Let them sit for about 30 seconds and then stir them until they’re softened and deeply browned.

  • Finish with baking soda: This boosts the onions’ sweetness by encouraging the breakdown of flavorless inulin into sweet fructose.

Watch the Video

Featured Equipment

The Best Chef’s Knife Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8" Chef's Knife

Still the best—and a bargain—after 20 years, this knife’s “super-sharp” blade retained its edge after weeks of testing. Its textured grip felt secure for a wide range of hand sizes, and thanks to its gently rounded edges and the soft, hand-polished top spine, we could comfortably choke up on the knife for “precise,” “effortless” cuts.
 

The Best Nonstick Skillet OXO Good Grips Non-Stick 12-inch Open Frypan

This pan came slick and stayed that way. It cooked and released food perfectly, thanks to its darker finish and excellent nonstick coating. Its gently flared sides and lightweight design made it easy to load, unload, and move. Its grippy stay-cool handle was flawless and its cooking surface vast.
 

The Best Silicone Spatula Di Oro Living Seamless Silicone Spatula—Large

This model is firm enough for scraping and scooping but also fit neatly into tight corners. Its straight sides and wide, flat blade ensured that no food was left unmixed. The all-silicone design eliminates any crannies that could trap food. It felt exceptionally comfortable.
 

The Best Prep Bowls Anchor Hocking 6-Piece Nesting Prep Bowl Set

Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, our winning set performed ably on almost every test. Its wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean.
 

Subscribe to the America’s Test Kitchen YouTube channel to get alerted whenever we add a new video.


What’s your favorite way to use caramelized onions? Let us know in the comments!

Comments