turning pungency to sweet: the magic of slow cooking onions

why we all need to be making our own 'onion jam'

Cheap and ubiquitous, the humble onion is one of those vegetables that’s almost always playing a small part in numerous dishes contributing its subtle sweetness and depth. It’s so easy to take this vegetable for granted since we see it everywhere.

What we don’t realize is how much this vegetable gives to a dish. Take any soup or braised items for instance. It would almost be impossible to find a recipe that doesn’t call for (even optionally) onions. It’s got something to do with the subtle vegetal sweetness it lends to the whole dish without over exerting its presence.

in appreciation of this unassuming bulb, I made a small batch of caramelized onion (or onion jam as I like calling it).

I made my batch using some white onions but red ones would definitely work fine as well. The primary key in achieving that ultra tender and jammy consistency is to go Low and Slow (an axiom of professional kitchens).

This means using a very low heat to cook an item over a slow period of time. Such kitchen colloquialism is also often mentioned when one is doing a nice braise of meat.

Something magical happens when you allow things to slowly cook. Flavors meld well together creating a flavor so much bigger and better than the sum of all its parts.

here’s the recipe:

Onion Jam

500gms onion, sliced

50ml any neutral oil

50gm butter

30ml of vinegar (any kind would work, but I used sugarcane vinegar)

10gms sugar

2pcs bay leaf

5gms salt

2gms freshly cracked pepper

optional stuff

1/4tsp dried thyme

1/2tsp smoked paprika

(you can even play with your preferred spices, i.e. cloves, cumin, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, etc.)

  • warm up your oil in the pan. Add in the sliced onion and cook over medium heat until the onion has started to wilt and release some moisture.

  • lower the heat and add vinegar, sugar and spices and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes. stir periodically just to check if it has stuck and burned at the bottom (this will vary depending on the actual heat level and the thickness of the pan)

  • season with salt and pepper. adjust seasoning according to taste and finish the whole thing with cold butter.

  • allow to cool and transfer onto jars. use as desired.

one of the many ways I consumed this onion concoction is to simply eat it with a nicely toasted piece of potato bread and add a sliver of cold butter on top.

that’s divine.

But also, this versatile larder item can be used in such numerous applications that it would be harder to list where it can not be used.

That said, this could successfully land atop freshly steamed rice, tossed into any kind of pasta, a sweetish filling for sandwiches, a nice counterpoint to eat with horseradish when eating steak, etc. etc…

So yes, it takes a bit of some prep and even longer cooking time, but the rewards of having this versatile larder item always ready on one’s fridge could be one of the best things that we can add to almost anything we eat. (except maybe desserts, or may be not?)

That’s it for today! :)
until our next larder adventures.