Patience is not my strongest virtue. When I know something exciting is coming up — an event, a vacation, even just a single day off — I anticipate it with real "kid waiting for Christmas" energy.
Cooking, however, helps train my self-restraint. It's amazing how a few batches of underdone cookies or a still-too-warm cake with the icing sliding off the sides can push even the most impatient people to slow down, if only for a moment. Over the years, I've learned that the best things really do come to those who wait. Case in point: caramelized onions.
Nothing elevates a burger, sandwich or grain bowl quite like jammy, mahogany-brown caramelized onions. They're sweet, pungent — and they typically take a lot of time and babysitting to get just right. When I want to upgrade a meal with caramelized onions, I know that I need to basically budget an extra hour to stare at onions in a pan and stir. Then stand, stir and stare some more.
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The other day though, I had a few back-to-back-to-back student evaluations that didn't leave me with much time to stand and stir. I, of course, also really wanted caramelized onions to add to what would be a late-night dinner of frozen sausage and pepper pizza. (Try it sometime — it really will change your frozen pizza game!)
It was then that I had an epiphany. Why not put the onions on a sheet pan? I could roast them low and slow, flipping them between my 15- to 20-minute calls. I sliced my onions into uniform pieces, tossed them with olive oil and salt, and spread them on a parchment-covered sheet pan, praying for the best.
Over the course of two hours and 15 minutes, I baked the onions at 250 degrees. I flipped them whenever I had a quick break. Initially, I was concerned they would burn, but about halfway through the bake, I realized that was pretty unlikely. By the time I pulled them out, they could have easily spent another hour in the oven for deeper color and flavor.
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Over time, they transformed from raw, white onion slices to sweet, browned strands with soft centers and slightly crispy tips. Were they as silky and jammy as the internet famous 4-hour caramelized onions? No, but considering the minimal effort (and how the cooking process gelled with my evening's schedule), the result was pretty ideal.
As with most good things food-related, I'm not the first person to have this epiphany. Notably, Melissa d'Arabian of the Food Network has a method for slow-roasted onions that incorporates balsamic vinegar as a caramelizing agent. Her version, however, recommends cutting the onions in quarters. That doesn't leave them quite browned enough for my taste, but it definitely cuts down a bit on the prep.
So, the next time you're craving caramelized onions but aren't feeling up to the whole stand and stir rigamarole, grab your sheet pan and give onion-caramelized onions a try.
Wondering how to put your caramelized onions to use? Add them to these recipes: