There's really no substitute for traditional caramelized onions cooked slowly over a low flame. But in a pinch, the process can be rushed along with higher heat and a bit of water to prevent burning.
The trick is to use a heavier pot or pan—a tri-ply stainless steel saucepan or enameled cast iron Dutch oven is ideal—that can transfer heat slowly and evenly, preventing the hot and cool spots that are the bane to good caramelization.
Every time the fond (that's the browned bits of sugars and proteins that stick to the bottom of the pot) threatens to burn, just add a few tablespoons of water and use a wooden spoon to scrape the bits up. The browned sugars and proteins end up dissolving in the water then spread themselves evenly around the onions. In no time at all, you have deep, dark, sweet onions.
Will they ever truly rival real-deal caramelized onions? Nope. But will they make a welcome addition to your next burger, sandwich, pizza, or roast? Absolutely.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this recipe suggested using sugar and baking soda for even faster results. Due to reader complaints and further testing, we no longer recommend this adjustment.
Why It Works
- A heavy-bottomed pot or pan helps evenly distribute heat.
- Regularly deglazing with water prevents the burning higher heat caramelization would typically case
- Yield:Makes about 1 cup caramelized onions
- Active time: 15 minutes
- Total time:15 minutes
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 to 3 large onions, finely sliced (about 5 cups)
- Kosher salt
Melt butter in a large heavy-bottomed stainless steel or enameled cast iron saucepan over high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until bottom of saucepan is glazed in a pale brown fond, about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons water and scrape up fond with wooden spoon.
Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until fond has built up again, about 2 minutes longer. Add 2 more tablespoons water and scrape up browned bits. Repeat cooking, adding water, and scraping until onions are completely softened and a deep, dark brown, about 15 minutes total. Season to taste with salt. Remove from saucepan rapidly to prevent burning.