How to Caramelize Onions Faster and Easier

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It’s the rare person these days who isn’t short on time. So if you don’t have time to do the longer slower process, you’ll want to know an easier way for how to caramelize onions faster.

Or, if like me, you started headlong into a recipe without reading it thoroughly first, only to discover you need caramelized onions, then you’ll want to know how to caramelize onions faster. But don’t worry, it’s possible to easily make quick caramelized onions.

Do Quick Caramelized Onions Taste as Good as Slow-Cooked Caramelized Onions?

Most chefs are quick to say “no”, and most cooks agree that the longer, slower process provides the best flavor. It makes sense that the longer process of cooking down the onions, makes for a richer and denser flavor overall.

However, the fast-cooked caramel onions are still quite a tasty addition to many dishes, and unlikely to be noticed by the average palate.

Ingredients Needed for Caramelized Onions

  • Thick bottomed cast iron skillet of pan with a lid. Thicker cast iron pans or stainless steel pans with a thicker disk-type bottom will heat up and distribute heat more evenly.
  • Butter and/or cooking oil.
  • Salt
  • Sugar or baking soda, (optional, but helpful for expediting)
  • Cooking wine (or water)

What’s the Best Oil to Use for Caramelizing Onions?

The best cooking fat for caramelizing onions quickly, is a blend of butter and a good quality cooking oil such as olive, avocado or coconut oil. The butter adds flavor and the cooking oil is known to have a higher smoke point which allows cooking at a higher temperature with less likelihood of burning.

Why Add Sugar to Caramelized Onions?

The process of caramelizing onions by cooking at a higher heat, causes the release of more of the natural sugars. Not all cooks use sugar for the quick-cook method, however some like to use it for how it helps add a little extra of the sugar flavor, and increases the appearance of browning, and the sweetening of the fond, (dark film on the plan).

See also, how to caramelize onions and mushrooms.

Why Add Baking Soda to Caramelized Onions?

Baking soda creates a chemical reaction that raises pH levels, which is said to help to expedite the browning of the sugars in the caramelizing process. If you choose to use baking soda, just a pinch should do.

In a perfect world, we would have time to run controlled experiments on all three processes at once, using the exact type and amount of onions and butter / oil:

  • caramelizing onions without sugar or baking soda
  • caramelizing by adding just sugar
  • caramelizing by just adding just baking soda

As it is, these all work just fine, with no notable differences. Meanwhile, if you try it in more than one of these ways, we’d love to hear if one way worked best for you over the other/s.

Steps for How to Caramelize Onions Faster

These instructions for how to caramelize onions faster are also on the printable recipe card below. This is just an expanded summary for you to scan and reference as needed.

  1. Julienne your onions. (Julienne means to slice thinly). You can see a video at the end of this article for how to Julienne onions if you want a more thorough demonstration.
  2. Place your sauté pan over high heat.
  3. After a minute, add butter, or a butter-oil blend to the hot pan.
  4. Let the butter begin to brown lightly.
  5. Then add the thinly sliced onions to the hot buttered pan.
  6. Stir and break up onions with the straight edge of a wooden spatula, spreading them into a thin layer. (We prefer a thin wooden spatula, that we’ve had for over 34 years, but use your favorite sauté spatula).
  7. Season lightly with about dash of salt and a pinch sugar (if desired).
  8. Then cover the pan with a lid. This isn’t usually done for the longer slower method of caramelization, but helps to expedite the softening of the onions and release of sugars for the quick cook method of caramelization.
  9. The pan will begin to brown before the onions do. Scrape the browned film on the pan bottom, called “fond”, and stir the brown bits in with the onions. You can loosen the fond with a splash of cooking wine or water, and scrape it from the pan with flat edge of wooden spatula, then stir it into the onions.
  10. Cover the pan and repeat the process until onions are nicely caramelized, in about 10 minutes.

Video on How to Julienne an Onion

Recipe for How to Caramelize Onions Fast

Quick & Easy Caramelized Onions Recipe

Quick & Easy Caramelized Onions

Cooks
Don't panic. There is an easier way to caramelize onions fast!
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 4 cups

Ingredients
  

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large yellow onion ~1.5 cups
  • 12 oz. mushrooms sliced (~1.5 cups)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 pinch 1/16th tsp baking soda (optional)

Instructions
 

  • JULIENNE onions (slice thin).
  • HEAT sauté pan on high heat.
  • ADD butter and/or oil to hot sauté pan
  • MELT butter and let it start to brown slightly
  • ADD sliced onions to hot buttered plan. Spread onions out, separating clumps with flat end of spatula.
  • STIR in salt, plus sugar and/or baking soda if using.
  • COVER with lid to help expedite the steam effect for softening of the onions
  • STIR every 2-3 minutes. Once pan begins to brown then stir up the “fond” (brown bits) stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  • LOOSEN the fond with a splash of cooking wine or water. Scrape it from the pan with flat edge of wooden spatula and stir it into the onions
  • COVER and repeat the process until onions are nicely caramelized. They won’t look pretty, but they’ll look brown and gooey and taste fantastic with just about anything!
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

See also, how to caramelize onions and mushrooms, and also a recipe for Daikon Noodle Soup with Caramelized Onions & Baby Portobello Mushrooms.

Video on How to Caramelize Onions Quickly

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