Caramelized Pearl Onions
You can use frozen pearl onions, which are already peeled, for this recipe. But the sweetness and crunch of fresh ones elevates the dish, so use them when you have the time and patience to peel for 20 minutes or so.
INGREDIENTS | SERVES 40
- 1 bag (2 cups) peeled pearl onions
- 2 teaspoons sugar or brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
In a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, combine onions, sugar, salt, and butter with 1 cup cold water; bring to a simmer. Cook gently until all water is absorbed, and onions are coated in a light glaze, about 5 minutes.
Lower heat to low; cook slowly until glaze browns and onions attain golden brown appearance, about 5 minutes more.
Alternative Method: Once liquid is reduced to a glaze, put the entire pan in a 350 degree oven, and roast until browned.
When Are Onions “Translucent,” “Soft,” and “Caramelized”?
Practically every recipe calls for getting onions to do something! Translucent? Soft? Golden? Caramelized? The point of most of these techniques is to extract the natural juices that are trapped in the raw onions' cell walls. By adding heat, these walls break down, releasing sugars and flavors, which add complexity and dimension to food. Simply adding the raw onion to foods will achieve little, since it is the slow stewing in a medium such as oil or butter that draws out those flavorful elements.
After a few minutes of sizzling gently in oil or butter, onions wilt as their cell walls collapse, giving up their juices. This gives the once-opaque raw onion a watery, “translucent” appearance. The edges, once rough and sharp, are then “soft.” As the water evaporates from the juices, the onions' natural sugars concentrate on the exterior of the pieces, and brown in the heat. The first stages of this transformation give onions a golden appearance. Since browned sugar is known as caramel, the browning of onions is often referred to as “caramelizing.”