Caramelized onions are the unsung hero to foods such as hamburgers, Philly cheesesteaks, and even hot dogs. They are an underrated topping that tend to get looked over, but are a vital ingredient to all of these foods and more.
Caramelized onions tend to get a bad rap because of the fact that in order to become caramelized, they need a lot of butter. However, this isn’t always the case.
In fact, you can easily caramelize onions without having to use butter at all. Health fanatics, be ready to get your mind blown.
One of the most common alternatives to cooking onions with butter is oil. For this recipe, you’ll need about five tablespoons of olive oil, onions, some salt, and a little bit of white wine.
The directions for this are pretty straightforward and only require you to mix up the ingredients in a large pan. However, it will take some time; if you are in a rush, you may want to go with another option.
First, you want to start off by heating up the olive oil and throwing in the onions along with the salt. You will then leave the onions to cook for about a half hour, making sure that you are checking on the onions every few minutes. Once the half hour is up, you are ready to start pouring the wine into the pan.
Because of the fact that wine has alcohol in it, you are going to want to cook it for about 15 minutes in order to make sure that all the alcohol has been absorbed. Another way to tell if your onions are done is by checking the texture and looking at the color.
If the texture of the onions is soft to the touch and the color has turned to brown, then your onions should be ready to serve.
Caramelizing Without Oil and Butter
Cooking your onions with neither butter nor oil might seem like an impossible task. However, vegans have been following this recipe or one similar to this one for ages.
For this recipe, you will need your onion, preferably a white onion, and a cup of vegetable broth. For your broth, make sure that it is low-sodium and is free of any type of oil. In this case, the vegetable broth will serve as the replacement for both the oil and the butter.
Turn your heat up to medium and make sure that it stays that way during the entire cooking process. This might seem counterintuitive as oftentimes caramelized onion recipes call for using high heat as you continue to cook. However, this is not your regular run-of-the-mill recipe!
When your pan is at the temperature that it needs to be, you can add in both your vegetable broth and your chopped onions. As the cooking process continues, you may be tempted to continue adding more broth, but keep in mind that the only time more broth should be added to the mixture is when it has completely evaporated from the pan.
Ideally, your onions are going to need to be a dark brown before they are ready to be taken off the heat. Oftentimes, people make the mistake of taking them off the stove when they turn a golden color because they assume that they are done. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Be sure to keep your onions on the stove until they are entirely brown, and do not take them off any time sooner than that. After all, it is called caramelization for a reason.
When your onions reach the ideal color and all of the vegetable broth has evaporated, you can then take them off the heat and serve them.
Using Chicken Stock as an Alternative
As mentioned previously, broth is a great way to caramelize onions without having to use butter. While the recipe mentioned above calls for vegetable stock, this recipe uses chicken stock and olive oil together to create the caramelization of the onions.
In order to make this recipe, you will need white onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, and chicken stock, of course. First things first; you’ll want to start off by slicing up your onions. You can slice them however you see fit, although thinner slices tend to work better in this case.
Once you have done that, set your stove to medium heat and add in the olive oil. Your onions will go in next. Be sure to stir them in as you are adding them to the pan while simultaneously adding in the salt and pepper to taste. Your goal is to make sure that the onions soften as you cook them.
The chicken stock is going to come into play once the oil starts to burn out. If you see that your onions are beginning to stick to the bottom of your pan, start adding in the chicken stock to keep the onions from getting stuck.
Your onions are going to be done cooking once they turn a nice brown color, and then you can take them off the heat altogether.
Some people love to use butter simply because of the extra flavor it gives the onions when cooking. They believe that oil or other butter alternatives just won’t give caramelized onions the same flavor. However, you can always add in a very important secret weapon when it comes to cooking — garlic.
There are many things that garlic can fix in the world of food, and caramelized onions are one of those things. If you’ve ever smelled garlic and onion cooking together, then you know that you’re in for a real treat.
For this recipe, you will need the following ingredients: peeled onions, minced garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
Again, you are going to start by heating up your pan and throwing in the olive oil along with onions and the minced garlic. As with the onions, your garlic will start to cook once you notice that it has started to soften.
It’ll be around 45 minutes before you start to see the onions start to brown, but the wait will be worth it. Just the smell is worthwhile!
If you find that your garlic and onion are sticking to the bottom of the pan, you can always adjust the temperature of the stove. When the pan has started to cool, you can throw in a couple of splashes of water, or broth if you are so inclined. Either way, this will alleviate the sticking.
Lastly, you are going to want to add in the salt and pepper. Keep in mind that the garlic will already add some extra flavor to the onions, so you do not want to overpower that by adding in too much salt and pepper.
At the end of the day, caramelized onions are a versatile dish that can be made in a variety of ways that don’t include butter. Whether you are vegan, trying to watch your cholesterol, or simply not a fan of butter, there are many alternatives to cooking caramelized onions without it that are sure to get your stomach rumbling.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.