Gourmet Spotlight: Onion Transformed

September 9, 2009

Perhaps it was the decadent menu at Bouchon, or perhaps it was the crisp morning autumn air.  Or perhaps it’s just the color caramel itself.  But all of a sudden I was craving French Onion Soup.  Oh.  Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur Keller.  Soupe à l’Oignon. 

Now you know I love a good transformation.  Especially one where a raw bland object with hidden potential gets transformed into sweet and sassy goodness.  And I’m a sucker for a great before and after.  It must be why I love how a yellow onion becomes the most savory gourmet delight in an hour. 

b and a

I have a serious love affair with caramelized onions.  I could eat them on my scrambled eggs, over potatoes, on steaks, over flatbread, and always with cheese. Glorious oozing melting cheese.  They are one of those culinary delights that make a germ sensitive mom like me lick her fingers without any regret.

  onion soup crop

And with my caramelized onions, I make the most fabulous French Onion Soup.


Onions and apples, squash and sage.  Fall cooking is pure comfort food.  My caramelized onions find their way into plenty of hors d’oeuvres and light meals.  For special guests and occasions, they go one step further and become the ultimate first course. 

Simple Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions couldn’t be easier.  To start, grab a bag of yellow onions from the local store.  I cook up an entire 10 pound bag in two pots. 

bowl of onions

Slice them up in small strips. 

onion before

There will be an opportunity at the end to share your secrets to cutting onions and avoiding tears.  Mine is simply this little food processing tool.  It does all the dirty work for me.  Confession: I fell prey to one of those late night infomercials several years ago.

le presse


diced onions up close

Melt a stick of unsalted butter in your pot, and add two teaspoons of cooking oil.  Am I alone in this, or do you also find melting butter rather attractive?  I do.  Hence, the photo. 

melting butter

Add four to five pounds of sliced onions to your pot, and stir every few minutes for about 45 minutes.  Once your onions start to brown, watch them so that they don’t burn.  Then observe the magic happening.  The natural sugars buried deep inside transform during the cooking process to become your best culinary friend.   

caramelized in pot

Once they are a rich caramel color, I like to add about 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  Then I reduce them in the liquid for about 10 more minutes.  When they’re done, I spoon them into jars for future use, and I refrigerate.  ** Author’s note after several comments:  They will keep in a cold fridge for up to two weeks.

onions in jar


Use them in this Cranberry and Cream Cheese appetizer recipe from Southern Living.

 southern living cranberry bites  Image: Southern Living

Or drizzle them with cheese over a baked potato in this recipe from Cooking Light at MyRecipes.com.

caramelized-onion-stuffed-baked-potato-12035333041 Image: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Or try Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Cornbread.

caramelized onion goat cheese cornbread smitten kitchen Image: Smitten Kitchen

This next recipe is my own time tested version of French Onion Soup.  It has the simplest ingredients, and is almost too easy to justify it’s amazing flavor. 

soup supplies

French Onion Soup for Eight:

  1. 5 lbs yellow onions, thinly sliced in strips
  2. 1 stick unsalted butter
  3. 2 tsp vegetable oil
  4. 1.5 cups dry sherry
  5. Four 14 oz. cans low sodium chicken broth (or 8 cups)
  6. 6 oz. gruyere cheese (or similar style of cheese)
  7. Sliced sourdough rounds

Melt butter in pan and add oil.  Cook onions over medium low heat for approximately 50 minutes until caramelized (see above).  Add dry sherry and bring to a boil.  Reduce for 5 minutes.  Add chicken broth and simmer soup on low for another 45 to 50 minutes.

 add chicken broth

Entertainer’s tip:  If preparing in advance, then cover and refrigerate earlier in the day.  Later, you can bring the soup to simmer, then spoon soup into ramekins or soup bowls. 

soup spooned in bowls 

These miniature Brunswick Soup Pots I picked up for $4 each at Crate + Barrel last year.  This year’s version comes in creamy white.  They’re oven-safe and make a nice homey presentation for your family or dinner guests. 

Cut your sourdough crouton by turning the soup bowl upside down and carving a perfect size round.  Lightly toast to achieve browned edge. 

cut sourdough

Layer with a few slices of gruyere or similar style cheese.

layer crouton and cheese

Place on a baking dish under low broiler for 3 to 4 minutes to allow cheese to melt.  Serve hot to table.

On a crisp autumn evening, there is nothing like the bubbling goodness of melted gruyere over a sourdough crouton in a soup bowl. 

melted cheese up close

And as any lover of French Onion soup knows, the best part is the moment your spoon hits the cheese and penetrates that sourdough crouton.  It’s magical. 

sourdough crouton with cheese

I like to serve mine with sliced pear and some additional cheese.  Très élégant.  Add some extra bread and a glass of red, and it’s a little piece of heaven.

soup and pear

I once served it to my in-laws and watched their eyes roll back in their heads. 

Here’s a final touch.  Send your guests home with their own little jar of your own savory concoction, with a personalized label.  You’ll kill ‘em if you include a recipe for them to recreate the soup later in the week.  Translation: “Why yes, I am the perfect hostess, thank you very much.” 

onions with label

How many of you know and love the Soupe à l’Oignon?   What secrets can you share about cutting onions without crying a river of tears?

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