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Speedy Caramelized Onions

For a busy cook, caramelized onions present a real quandary. Sure, they're deeply delicious, impossibly rich, meltingly savory...they're pure magic is what they are! But caramelizing onions is incredibly time consuming, requiring near-constant stirring for anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Not exactly busy weeknight fare. Or is it? What if I told you it was possible to make savory-sweet, perfectly complex caramelized onions in as little as 15 to 20 minutes? You'd expect me and Doc Brown to take you for a ride in a DeLorean, to traverse the time-space continuum to the not-too-distant future, wouldn't you? Fun as that would be, time travel is not actually required to turn out amazing caramelized onions in a flash. Nope. But baking soda is. You see, just a pinch of baking soda increases the pH of onions, which speeds up something called the Maillard reaction, the process responsible for the browning of proteins in food. It can accelerate the browning rate by more than 50 percent! These onions, soft and sweet, are good on pretty much...everything. They keep for a week or more in the fridge, so it's fine to make them well ahead of time.

Makes about 1 cup
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup water

    1. Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, sugar, baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Toss to combine. Cook, shaking and/or stirring the pan occasionally until onions begin to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.

    2. Deglaze the pan with 2 tablespoons of water, scraping with a wooden spoon to release all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, then deglaze again with another 2 tablespoons of water. Repeat a few more times until the onions are deeply browned and you've gone through the whole 1/2 cup of water.