If you’ve read a cookbook or recipes online recently, likelihood is high that you have come across a recipe that features caramelized onions. It seems they’re everywhere — on sandwiches, in sauces or piled on steaks. Unfortunately, if you have read those recipes, itrrrs likely that better than even you have found contradictory and confusing here is how to caramelize them.
After mushrooms, there’s probably more confusion about cooking onions than another vegetable.
You’ll see caramelized onion recipes that involve sugar, salt or baking soda (or not one of the above); heat levels that change from low to high; and methods claiming to take between 20 minutes to a hour. You’ll often read you should choose sweet onions to optimize the sugar readily available for caramelizing. What’s the real story?
Types of Onions
First, this short side trip into onion cultivation. (It will help clarify what comes later.) You might think which the important difference among onions would be the color — yellow, white or red. Not true. Although there are minor differences in how these onions taste, the large difference in onions of a typical color is between spring onions and storage onions.
Spring onions, you may imagine, are harvested early in the year, before they may be fully mature. They’re relatively mild simply because they contain fewer on the sulfur compounds (in comparison with storage onions) that offer onions their sting.
The so-called “sweet” onions are yellow spring onions cultivated in soil which is especially reduced sulfur include them as even milder. That’s the reason that most the branded sweet onions are named following your places where they’re grown — as an example, Vidalias (Georgia), Walla Wallas (Washington) or Mauis (Hawaii).
Without the sulfur-poor soil in those areas, the onions wouldn’t be as mild. Contrary to popular belief, these onions will not contain more sugar than storage onions; it does not take lack of sulfur that produces them seem sweeter.
Storage onions are grown to maturity and harvested inside fall. They’re sturdier than spring onions, with thick, brittle layers of skin to safeguard them. They’re those that really help make your eyes water while you cut into them simply because they contain more sulfur compounds. However, a lot of sulfur is the thing that you want when you find yourself cooking onions.
Caramelization and also the Maillard Reaction
Now that you are an onion cultivation expert, you are probably wondering what that has got to do with cooking them. Which onions are ideal for caramelizing? And how, exactly, would you caramelize onions?
The short response is you don’t. Strictly speaking, caramelization is the thing that happens to sugars when confronted with relatively high heat. When you’re browning onions, however you do it, you rarely achieve the temperatures essential for caramelization. The browning the truth is is, instead, caused primarily with the Maillard reaction, which will be the reaction between sugars or some other carbohydrates and amino acids. Maillard flavors tend to be more complex and “meaty” than caramelized flavors.
Recipes that necessitate adding sugar on the onions and cooking at higher temperatures may result in slightly true caramelization, but it is negligible compared on the Maillard reaction. And it must be clear that since sweet onions haven’t any more sugar than storage onions, they won’t caramelize any longer than their storage cousins.
It actually seems that their deficiency of sulfur compounds is often a definite handicap in relation to browning them, particularly if you’re cooking them for a long period. The sulfur compounds in storage onions, while harsh and irritating when they are raw, undergo changes under heat that handles much on the complexity within the flavor of browned onions. Without them, you’ll get onions which are mildly sweet but otherwise pretty bland.
How to Brown Onions
The challenge with using the term “caramelized” for browned onions is a bit more than just inaccuracy.
What causes confusion is how the term can be used for two distinctive methods and results. The first method, that requires very slow cooking, leads to onions whose cells have separated so far they almost form a paste. They brown slowly and evenly, almost internally.
The second method cooks the onions more rapidly over higher heat so that they can brown before they’ve got a chance to breakdown. You have browned onions that retain their shape plus some texture. They also retain a greater portion of their volume.
So which way is better? The answer, naturally, will it be depends. Sometimes you desire the silky texture and mellow but complex flavor of slow-browned onions, as with this roasted red pepper soup. Sometimes, as an example on a patty melt sandwich, the harder assertive flavor and integrity in the onion pieces you will get from the quick-browned method preferable. For French onion soup, you can use both.
Both methods are pretty easy. You can make big batches of either type and make them around for all sorts of recipes.