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What’s your optimal cooking time for caramelized onions?

Spatlese

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I've had a batch going today for about 4 hours so far, based on Thomas Keller's recipe from his Bouchon book. They're nearly ready, but I find it hard to get good results cooking them much less than this. I'm surprised by the number of recipes from well-regarded sources calling for caramelized onions that suggest cooking them for 15-20 minutes. How can this develop any depth of flavor? Some of them even recommend adding sugar??

Cooking them this long isn't much work because you just basically keep it at low heat and stir every 10 minutes. Clearly, this is not something to do regularly, so I make batches of 5 lbs at a time and freeze portions for when I need them for soup or a sauce.

How long do you typically cook your onions?
 

gdl203

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20-30 mn
 

Manton

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4 hours to carmelize? Way too long.

I have the Bouchon book, and I don't recall that. Keller has an onion confit recipe, but the whole point of that is to sweat the onions very slowly for several hours without carmelizing them. What page are you looking at?
 

Spatlese

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Originally Posted by Manton
4 hours to carmelize? Way too long.

I have the Bouchon book, and I don't recall that. Keller has an onion confit recipe, but the whole point of that is to sweat the onions very slowly for several hours without carmelizing them. What page are you looking at?


Refer to page 49 and 50 for his onion soup recipe. Note that he actually recommends a cooking time of five hours for the onions.
 

Manton

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I read it. I love Keller, but sometimes his recipes go off the rails: either too involved, or just very strange recommendations.

I've been making onion soup for a zillion years, and have never cooked the onions that long. I am sort of at a loss as to how it can be done. If you cook them that long, the only way to ensure they won't burn (it seems to me) is to cook them on very low heat with liquid. But that is a confit: no color. If you try to up the heat to produce some color, you can do it, but long before five hours, they will be crisp.

I recently took a class at the FCI, and we made onion soup, but we cooked the onions for maybe two hours: first in liquid to sweat them, then on higher heat to carmelize them.
 

spence

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Originally Posted by Manton
I recently took a class at the FCI, and we made onion soup, but we cooked the onions for maybe two hours: first in liquid to sweat them, then on higher heat to carmelize them.

I think this is a key factor here. The volume of onions, size and kind of pot and heat will obviously have a big impact on what it takes just to sweat the onions first.

Using my largest enameled cast iron pot it takes less than an hour if the right heat is used. High enough that they would burn if left unattended, but not enough to scorch with frequent stirring.

-spence
 

JohnRov

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Adding sugar? I don't see why. Then you aren't caramalizing, you are just trying to take a shortcut. Keller's cookbooks are blueprints of the way things are done at his particular restaurants, and you can't argue with the results, but you can get good results modifying them if you understand why.
 

Spatlese

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Originally Posted by Manton
I read it. I love Keller, but sometimes his recipes go off the rails: either too involved, or just very strange recommendations.


This, we can definitely agree on. Four day prep for foie gras torchon? No thanks. In the case of the onions, I haven't taken it to five hours, but around four hours, at low heat, works well for me with no scorching or crisping.
 

GQgeek

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Originally Posted by Spatlese
This, we can definitely agree on. Four day prep for foie gras torchon? No thanks. In the case of the onions, I haven't taken it to five hours, but around four hours, at low heat, works well for me with no scorching or crisping.

+1

I followed the Bouchon recipe and did it for 4 hours. They didn't burn or turn crispy.
 

Chips

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I bought that book, but have only flipped through it. I have made some great french onion soup following the recipe in Anthony Bourdains cookbook Les Halles. It was phenomenal. I love the gritty humor in his books, and the way he sets up his mis en place. I don't mind taking a few extra minutes to prep everything, if the recipe comes together better in the end.

For me, when it comes to carmelizing onions, the best tool in my kitchen arsenal is my 12 quart Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot.
 

Dewey

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I've gotten the best results with medium high heat and constant stirring and standing over the pot until they are done. I don't think it takes 20 minutes. It does get boring and require some willpower or a beer at hand to keep at it.
 

Manton

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Originally Posted by Dewey
I've gotten the best results with medium high heat and constant stirring and standing over the pot until they are done. I don't think it takes 20 minutes. It does get boring and require some willpower or a beer at hand to keep at it.

With lower heat, they will sweat longer and soften before they color. You get the best of both worlds: good color and flavor, much less net loss of liquid, no burning, and no crispness or dryness anywhere. Slower cooking also ensures that you convert far more of the natural sugars.
 

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