Fast Flavor: The Quickest Way to Caramelize an Onion

updated Jun 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

Caramelizing onions is a process that usually takes at least 20 minutes — even up to an hour if you are cooking several pounds at once. So I was intrigued by the method Melissa Clark uses to caramelize onions, which is quite different from the usual approach and takes just 10 minutes. I had to give it a try.

My usual method for caramelizing an onion to to put oil or butter in a hot pan, add the onion and a little salt, and cook away, stirring frequently until the onion is uniformly soft and browned. This usually takes about 20 minutes for one onion.

Using Clark’s method, you put the onion in a dry pan without salt and cook it over medium-high heat until it is dark brown and softened, which takes about five minutes. Then you add the oil and a pinch of salt, and cook the onion for five more minutes, until it is completely soft.

The most surprising aspect of this technique is how quickly the onion begins browning in the dry pan. Instead of becoming moist and translucent as they cook, the slices basically go from raw to browned, taking on a deep color in just a couple minutes. Despite the shorter cooking time, the flavor is sweet and rich, though the texture is a little chewier and less crispy than I usually like my caramelized onions. (Cutting thinner slices and cooking for a bit longer after adding the oil might change that.)

This is a technique I’ll definitely use again, especially when making dinner on a busy weeknight, or when I want a last-minute flavor boost for a dish. I’m also curious if it works equally well when caramelizing a large number of onions at once, which could save a significant amount of time.

Check it out: A Quick Way to Caramelize Onions at The New York Times

What is your method for caramelizing onions?