The Humble Onion

The onion is a magical ingredient that unifies all the other parts of a dish. It is amazing how its many forms (raw, sautéed, caramelized, etc.) make the dish.  Imagine a hamburger without a slice of raw onion, or grilled onion if that's your choice. The word onion derives from the Latin 'unio', meaning one, oneness or unity. In a word, onion connects all the other flavors to complete a dish. As a tool or technique, the onion is the workhorse or backbone of cuisine around the world.

The late, great Julia Child once said "It's hard to imagine a civilization without onions".  Brillat Savarin, the French gastronome declared in 1825 "The onion is the truffle of the poor". And, Aliza Green in her book famous book "Starting with Ingredients" had this to say: "No matter where in the world, rich or poor, onions are essential to every savory kitchen".

I make sure I always have a storage of onions (white, Spanish, red and shallots). The various types are used in different preparations and even ethnic dishes. I prefer the white onion with its clean, mild flavors for Latin American cuisine. The Spanish or yellow onion works well for caramelizing as it has a high sugar content. The red onions works nicely in its raw form for salads. I rinse my onions to be used in its raw state under cold water to remove the sulfur compounds that make raw onions seem harsh. You can even soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before mixing them into a salad or salsa. You can roast shallots in a preheated 400F oven unpeeled, with roots cut off. Place them on a large sheet of heavy aluminum foil with either butter or olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper. Wrap the foil around the shallots, and roast them until a knife can be inserted without resistance. When cool, these soft, sweet caramel-like flavor bombs can be served alongside roasted chicken or better yet, sliced into your favorite mashed potato preparation.

A couple of months ago I made a caramelized onion dip to replace the "French Onion Dip" at my family's holiday table. There is no going back now. Here is the recipe which is great with potato chips. You could also top baked potatoes with it for an interesting variation. The technique that makes the dip is caramelization. You can make more than you need and store it in the refrigerator for 3 days. The sweet onions can be added to anything needing a little more flavor.

Caramelized Onion Dip

Serves 6

  • Note: you can't rush the process of caramelizing onions. It can take up to 2 hours to reach the perfect flavor and texture. The nice thing is they do their thing mostly unattended and your house will smell amazing!

7-8 pounds Spanish or yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 6 large onions)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
16 oz. sour cream

Use a large pot with lid. One of those enamel-lined cast iron pots work beautifully. Place pot over medium heat and melt butter. Add onions and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt. Cover and cook until onions start to steam (usually about 10-15 minutes). Uncover, add pepper, thyme and bay leaf. Reduce heat and cook slow and low. Stir occasionally and cook until onions are a mahogany color. This can take up to an hour. Remove thyme and bay leaf.

Cool and chop.  Put sour cream in medium bowl. Fold chopped onions into sour cream. Taste for seasoning. Serve with your favorite potato chip.

Note: I tried to think of another ingredient or variations to this recipe. It is very unusual for me to not add something else to a recipe, but this is one where the simple flavors are just perfect as is! Enjoy!!

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