Happy 2012, everyone! While I do realize many a New Year’s resolution revolves around healthier eating and cutting back on high-calorie favorites, I might remind you that it’s still football season — the perfect loophole! Which means it’s most certainly acceptable to be eating junk at least once a week. I save my official “cheat day” for Sunday, as this is my favorite time of the week to be permanently parked on the couch (other than the occasional, or if you’re in your 20s, frequent, trip to the fridge for a cold beverage) enjoying delicious treats.
One of my favorite ways to eat on a Sunday is to prepare, along with all three of my talented, food-loving roommates, several different tapas-style, ‘bar food’-like snacks. This way, we all get a chance to experiment in the kitchen and everyone gets to try a little bit of everything.
The idea for this mini-recipe came to me a few years ago when a good friend and life-long Brooklyn resident (who also happens to be my best friend’s boyfriend) circulated an article amongst our burger-loving friends reviewing the Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern in NYC — considered by many to be the best in Manhattan. The chef was describing the lone topping he dressed this burger with — sliced onions that were given several hours to break down into the perfect, jam-like consistency over very low heat. Brilliant!
Now, as much as I love to be in the kitchen, a few hours for onions sounded a little extreme for your average at-home cook. A $26 burger deserves nothing less, but I have the Patriots to watch and beer to drink. So I found a way to imitate what I imagined these onions tasted like. Hopefully someday I’ll have the opportunity to taste this burger myself!
It still takes a bit of time, but the onions are well-behaved and can take care of themselves for the majority of their cooking time. I hope you’ll love these as much as I do!
Begin with some white or yellow onions. I generally buy a bag of small- to medium-sized white onions, but I think any onion will do. Red onion would work fine as well. I used four this time, and while the onions cook down a lot, it was still plenty for an appetizer for four people.
Cut off the tops and bottoms of each onion and remove the papery skin. I purchased an awesome mandolin at HEB (Texas’s biggest food market chain; sort of a hybrid of Stop & Shop, Costco, and Walmart) for $7, and for this recipe alone, it was worth it. Perfect uniform slices every time, though the same task can be done with a good, sharp knife. You want to cut through the onion in the direction that will give you rings. If you don’t have a mandolin, just do the best you can to keep the slices uniform. An eighth of an inch is a perfect width.
Once you have all of your onions sliced, get a large skillet over low-medium heat. As much as I love cast iron, this is an instance where non-stick is going to save you a lot of time later. This is because onions are very sugary (we’ll be making them even more so), and the cast iron skillets in our house aren’t old or seasoned enough to ensure perfect onion removal (though they’re getting there, slowly but surely). Also, the dark metal will get too hot too quickly and brown the onions a little quicker than we’d like.
Add olive oil and butter to the warming pan. I did equal parts of both. You could also use all butter or all olive (or vegetable, canola, peanut) oil. I find about half of a tablespoon of fat per onion is about right.
Once the butter is melted, add all of the onions to the pan, and stir, doing your best to coat each piece of onion in the butter/oil mixture. Now, the waiting begins. I let the onions sit on the stove top, leaving the heat at medium-low (about 3 out of 10 according to our stove top knobs). I came back to stir them every 6 minutes or so. Or you can try tossing them the way fancy chefs do. I gave this up after half a batch ended up on the burner. I’ll stick to my trusty wooden spoon.
As time goes on, the onions will go from translucent to yellow to golden to amber to caramel-colored.
After about 40-45 minutes (this may vary) of cooking time, it’s time to add the secret ingredient – a generous dollop of grape jelly! Yum. Or raspberry. Or apricot. I can’t think of any kind of fruit preserve that wouldn’t be delicious in these. The sticky jelly acts as a perfect binder to pull the onions together into an almost sauce-like consistency. Funnily enough, in the finished product you can’t necessarily pick up the taste of the fruit; the ingredients just become a perfect synergy. Along with the jelly, sprinkle in brown sugar. Adding additional sugar to the onions helps to speed up the caramelization process — something I learned from another one of my best friend’s mom, who has some serious tricks in the kitchen…she makes the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. One time she even shared her recipe, taught me the exact process, step-by-step, and mine still don’t come close to hers. That’s true kitchen magic in my opinion.
Now’s also the time to season with some salt and fresh-ground black pepper. White pepper would be awesome here, so as not to mess with the pretty color of the onions, but I didn’t have any. No biggie, probably wouldn’t make a huge difference in the end anyway — they end up pretty dark in color.
Continue to cook down about another 10 minutes. Now, add a sprinkling of each balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, and mix. The onions at this point should be very reduced, tangled, and a deep toffee color. Finally, deglaze your pan with a good splash of wine — red, white, rosé, anything. They say only cook with a wine that you’d drink. Luckily this isn’t a problem for me because I’ve yet to meet a wine I don’t like.
Since I was making these on New Year’s Day, we happened to have some champagne left over from the night prior’s festivities — perfect. Stir everything around and cook down another 5 minutes or so to burn off most of the liquid from the wine.
And…done! These will go great on all kinds of things. Some of my favorite applications — pizza (I often add a little garlic and extra oil at the end, then use them in place of tomato sauce), calzones, sandwiches (pastrami, turkey, grilled cheese!), burgers (with Swiss cheese and bacon), over hot Italian sausages with grainy mustard. Also from here you could add beef broth and you’d pretty much have a classic, from-scratch French onion soup.
This day, however, being in finger-food mode, I served them as a simple appetizer over a wedge of room-temperature Brie. Perfect yin/yang situation…the buttery, creamy Brie became slightly melty and balanced great with the syrupy sweet, tangy onions. Cheddar or goat cheese would be fantastic as well. Just spoon the warm onions over the cheese and serve with crackers. Or if you’ve got a little more energy than I did, cut a baguette into thin slices on a bias. Sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and bake on a sheet pan in a single layer for a few minutes at about 350°.
One (optional) addition to the plate are a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Tear up a few leaves onto each bite. Something about the woodsy-ness (yes, spellcheck, I know that’s not a word) adds the perfect finish, plus the green pine needle-looking herb makes the plate a little more aesthetically pleasing.
Here’s the list of ingredients:
- 4 small/medium white onions
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. grape (or other) jelly
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar, packed
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/4 cup wine
- Salt & pepper, to taste
Last but not least, some toasted walnuts, pecans, or almonds would have been great to throw on top of the onions. Enjoy…preferably with a glass of the wine or champagne you just cooked with! Or a good ol’ Bud Light like I did — it was football Sunday, after all. 🙂