You don't have to believe in Buddha to truly caramelize onions, but you will learn in caramelizing onions that patience is worthwhile in the cooking process.
The chopping of the onions, letting them sweat down, and then kicking in the slow cooking process — at least 45 minutes of cooking time — may not co-exist well in this microwave world. If you enjoy the byproduct, the time will be well-spent.
Since the process is a bit arduous, use plenty of onions. They shrink a lot, as you can see in the pictures. At the same time, you should use up the finished product in about a week. Planning is part of your patience.
Based on what you read on the Internet, you should keep the flame low the whole time or crank up the heat. You should salt them or it isn't mentioned. Deglazing is valuable and helps you regain the product flavor lost at the bottom of the pan. Water can be your friend; you don't want something that can mask the onion flavor.
Even as the onions turn brown, maybe after 25 minutes, don't be tempted to stop. Find other things to do in the kitchen during the other 20 minutes.
The good news is that you can use your time in the kitchen well during the process. You don't have to hover over the onions, but you can't ignore them either.
In the winter months, you can enjoy the heat from having the stovetop on for close to an hour. In the summer months, the wonderful smell helps counter the added heat to the kitchen. Even when you are done, your place will smell like cooked onions. Okay, that might not be the best asset to sell you on caramelizing onions.
Too often, ordering caramelized onions means getting barely cooked onions. The point of caramelizing onions is to get the great taste of onions without the texture of raw onions. Barely cooked caramelized onions might as well be raw.
As a child, I was introduced to onions in its raw form and decided that I didn't like onions. In my "hooked on McDonald's" days, I would order the hamburger minus the onion. Special orders would often upset McD's but getting them special meant getting a fresher product, especially one without onions.
Caramelizing onions allows for onion flavor at an acceptable texture. Getting to onion nirvana is not easy.
BLT sandwiches are a lot of work for not much gain, but worthwhile if you get the ideal tomato. Making a pizza is a lot of work but a good pizza with ingredients that you want. Caramelized onions aren't much work but they do require patience and a lot of time. You could even make a pizza or a BLT in the time needed to caramelize onions.
If you really want the finished product, but don't want to do the work, find a friend who cooks who will spend the time. You could barter for something you have that the other person wants.
Eating the finished product of caramelized onions means eating the love that it took to make the onions as wonderful as they are. Love, patience, and time: all required for truly wonderful caramelized onions. They're even worth a tear of two in the cutting process.
photos credit: me