There are very few things in the kitchen more magical than caramelized onions. Transforming a plain raw onion into something intense and sweet is very satisfying, but very time consuming. Vegetable alchemy. We love them in so many dishes, but for the time and labor involved, a stove top batch doesn’t last us long enough. I have tried to speed up the process: higher temperatures, adding sugar, and salting the onions. I even tried the crock pot version that is all over Pinterest. And you know what? Nothing is better than cooking them low and slow. But after trying a few different methods, I have finally found a lazy method that works for me. Note: This is still time consuming, but minimal hands-on time is needed to make large quantities.
I have tried several different methods for the recipe, but nothing worked well for me. America’s Test Kitchen instructs you to microwave the onions before adding them to your slow cooker, but they also add brown sugar. I have tried the Pinterest method of throwing the onions in the slow cooker with oil, but I got boiled onions, not caramelized – a sad waste of onions! This method uses the microwave and slow cooker. The timing is flexible if your slow cooker has a warm temperature, something that really helps me when I’m doing this at night. You can extend the cooking time depending on how many onions you have, or if you want a denser texture. Don’t freak out when you see a lot of liquid in the pot – it will evaporate towards the end of the cook time.
I made A LOT of caramelized onions while working on this method. A ton. About 40 pounds. I gave some away, stocked the freezer, made pizzas and soups and even threw some out (don’t try salting the onions. Bad idea.) I don’t think I realized their versatility until I had a lot to work with. When you are deciding how many onions to use, aim high! There will be a few new recipes with caramelized onions coming soon to CookingOnions.com (funny, eh?), but there are delicious things you can do without a recipe. Try crusty bread with a dollop of good quality ricotta cheese, topped with caramelized onions, salt and pepper. Or top a side dish of couscous with chopped onions.
Bonus: Extra hugs from toddlers if they see you crying. If you are crying, you must be sad. Or have a boo-boo. So I got lots of hugs, as well as a Doc McStuffins band-aid.
A special thanks to the audiobook of “Delancey,” by Molly Wizenberg, which kept me entertained while slicing approximately a million onions. And to the lovely people at Instacart who delivered many heavy bags of onions on a regular basis.
Step 1: Slice onions thinly. Use a mandolin, if you have one. Slice as many onions as you want. Yellow, white or red, but don’t use sweet onions. I think a 5 lb bag works great, and it isn’t really worth the effort to make a small amount. Add them to a microwave safe bowl. Try not to cry.
Step 2: Microwave onions for 15 minutes. I have to do this in multiple batches, but you can do it in 1 if your bowl and microwave are large enough, though adjust cooking time accordingly. Listen to complaints about the smell.
Step 3: Strain liquid from onions. Poke them a bit with a spoon or tongs to get all of the water out. Move the onions to your slow cooker with a bit of olive oil – about a tablespoon.
Step 4: Cook on low temperature for 12 hours or high for 6 hours. Do not lift the lid while cooking.
Step 5: Stir the onions up a bit and move the lid so that is not fully covering the slow cooker.
Step 6: Cook on high for 6 hours. Feel free to stir the onions now, but it isn’t necessary.
Step 7: Keep going if you are looking for a denser texture. Try a 1/2 hour at a time.
Step 8: Enjoy!