Learn how to make Caramelized Onions that are sweet, golden brown, and so delicious. These velvety onions are so easy to make and add a delicious burst of umami to so many recipes. This recipe has a touch of balsamic vinegar and sugar to give it a sweeter taste. Add them into soups, dips, or top on burgers or fish.
Have you ever made caramelized onions before? You are in for quite a treat! They are so easy to make, and add a burst of flavor and a surprise layer of richness to so many recipes.
All it takes is just a few ingredients, the right pan, and some patience. These are actually caramelized onions with balsamic vinegar (because I used just a splash of my favorite balsamic vinegar).
Caramelized onions are one of my absolutely favorite things to make in my kitchen! Onions are sautéed slow and low, and magically transform into golden and sweet delights. Caramelizing onions is so easy to do, and they had a depth of flavor to so many dishes!
You could use them to top steak or even burgers. They are lovely added into soups, pasta recipes. My French Onion Soup and Vegan Italian Onion Soup are both so delicious because of the caramelized onions!
Balsamic browned onions are my one secret ingredient that I add to so many different dishes. Once you make them, you’ll see how they can take a simple recipe to a completely different level of amazing!
Adding onions to recipes does add Chopped or sliced onions are fine to use in recipes. But the . But when you take the time to slowly caramelize onions, they turn incredibly sweet and complex.
Most think of onions as strongly flavored and tear-inducing, but when onions are cooked slowly over low heat, their natural sugars caramelize turning them a beautiful golden brown. And their flavor? Wonderfully sweet.
Let’s learn how to caramelize onions!
What ingredients are in caramelized onions?
Here is all you need to make this recipe (full printable recipe is below).
- yellow onions- The star of this recipe is the onions! Any sort of onion will work. I have used red, sweet, Vidalia or yellow onions. Sweet onions are what I typically use to make this.
- extra-virgin olive oil (or butter or ghee)– You can’t keep adding olive oil (or butter), or they’ll be too greasy.
- sea salt– I usually use a dash of salt and a dash of sugar. Sometimes I don’t add the dash of sugar. The onions get so sweet as they are caramelizing.
- granulated sugar (optional)
- balsamic vinegar (optional)
- water or unsalted broth (optional)- Water or even unsalted broth could be used to keep the onions hydrated and to deglaze the pan. So water is my go-to choice to help them not get too dry, burn as they’re slowing cooking away.
How to caramelize onions?
What is so nice about this recipe is you can decide how light and golden or rich and dark you would like the onions to be. By just adjusting the cooking time, you could get different results. This is what you need to do:
- Slice onions: Take care not to slice them too thin.
- Add the onions: In a large sauté pan on medium heat, add the onions stir without the oil for about 5 minutes.
- Add the oil to the pan: Drizzle the oil (I like extra-virgin olive oil, but you could use butter, ghee or avocado oil. Even a combo of butter and oil is fine)to the pan with the onions.
- Stir the onions: Combine with the onions with the oil. Add the salt and dash of sugar (if you’re using). Let them cook on one side and begin to get color without stirring.
- Stir again: Lower the heat and start stirring. Add a bit of water to loosen the onions at about 10-12 minutes. Use a spatula to get the crispy bits of onion to combine and to begin the caramelization. Reduce the heat to medium low (or low if your burner cooks hot) and stir every couple of minutes for the first 30 minutes. If the onions stick or look like they’re burning, add a few tablespoons of water or broth as needed to rehydrate the onions and use a spatula to scrape the fond (those lovely browned bits) off the bottom of the pan and back into the onions.
- Keep stirring and scraping: If you’re adding balsamic vinegar, add a splash towards the end of cooking. Continue the process of cooking the onions, stirring, and adding a little bit of water if it’s too thick and sticking too much. The stirring and scraping the pan could go for a full 45 minutes. Cook less if you would like them more golden brown. Keep cooking if you like them a rich caramel color. It’s a very simple process and up to your taste.
How to use caramelized onions
- Add to dips and to salad dressing.
- Wonderful added into soups, salads, or stirred into creamy Instant Pot mashed potatoes.
- Layer them in a sandwich, a wrap, or top a burger.
- Start your pasta sauce (like this easy homemade tomato sauce) with caramelized onions for a richer flavor.
How long does it take for onions to caramelize?
Using a cast iron pan or carbon steel pan and not overcrowding, the whole process from slicing to cooking could take 45-60 minutes. Some factors will affect how long it takes. To get them how they should be for French onion soup, it could take 15-20 minutes.
If you want an even richer caramelized onion, it could take 45-60 minutes. You won’t be checking a timer. The more you caramelize onions, the more you’ll know by looking at them, and smelling them, that they’re ready. You’re aiming for onions that are super soft and sweet like candy
What does caramelized mean?
It depends on what texture you’re trying to achieve with your onions. For onions that fall apart and are like a jam, you’ll be cooking them for a full 60 minutes. If you’re looking for a quick caramelized onion that you could use to top a focaccia, pizza or use in an Italian onion soup, 20 minutes will be enough!
Adding some baking soda is a hack to quickly caramelize onions.
If you use extra-virgin olive oil (which is how I do it) be sure to choose a high quality oil (or even avocado oil).
It is easy to get sweet caramelized onions without sugar, but adding a touch of sugar does help the caramelizing process.
The main difference between caramelized onions and sauteed onions is the cooking time. Since caramelized onions are cooked longer and at a lower temperature, they end up being super tender and very sweet.
Use a spatula to stir, making sure you scrape bottom of pan so the onions don’t stick and burn. Stir ever 3-5 minutes, lowering heat as needed. When you add liquid, keep at a gentle simmer water (or the broth)evaporates.
Which type of pan is best to caramelize onions?
The best pan to caramelize onions is a large stainless steel or cast iron pan heavy pan. They allow the heat to evenly distribute, which is essential to achieve rich and flavorful caramelized onions.
Is oil or butter better to caramelize onions?
I always use extra-virgin olive oil. You could use butter or even ghee. Use whichever you prefer.
How to slice onions to caramelize them?
First, slice off the ends of the onions. Use the tip of your knife to cut a small notch around the root.
Place the onion with root facing you on your cutting board. Slice ¼”–⅛” thick. Be sure not to slice thinner than that or the onions will burn.
Can you caramelize onions in a nonstick pan?
It’s best not to use a nonstick pan. For the best results, cook them in a cast-iron pan or a carbon steel pan.
How long can you store caramelized onions?
Store caramelized onions in an airtight container (I like to store them in a jar with a lid) in the refrigerator for several days.
Can I add balsamic vinegar to caramelized onions?
Yes, you could add balsamic vinegar to take these caramelized onions to another level of amazing richness. Also, you could add a splash of red wine. Once you make these easy balsamic caramelized onions, you will be in love with how flavorful they are!
Can you freeze caramelized onions?
Yes, you could freeze them for up to 2 months. A great way to have them for different recipes is to double this recipe. Make a big batch and let it cool completely.
Store small portions in zipped lock freezer bags. Squeeze out all the air before sealing the small zipped lock bags shut. It will defrost pretty quickly and be ready to use for any recipe.
Some recipes using caramelized onions:
- Lentil Soup with Caramelized Onions
- Rosemary and Caramelized Onion Focaccia
- Balsamic Fig Glazed Chicken
- Baked Cod with Caramelized Onions and Cherry Tomatoes
Easy Caramelized Onions (with Balsamic)
- 2 large yellow onions 1/8-1/4 inch slices
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil butter, ghee or avocado oil is fine
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar optional
- Water as needed, to deglaze the pan
- Balsamic vinegar a splash for added flavor, optional
- Heat a 10″ cast iron or stainless steel pan on medium high.
- When pan is hot, add onions stirring a few times- cook this way, without oil, for 5 minutes.
- Add olive oil and salt. Add a dash of sugar (if using). Stirring for a minute to fully incorporate. Turn heat down to medium-low.
- Stir every 5-10 minutes for 30 minutes, allowing the onions to caramelize on one side. Add water, as needed, to hydrate the onions. Use a spatula to scrape the browned bits from bottom of pan (that is called “fond”, and is full of delicious flavor).
- At about 30 minutes, add a splash of balsamic vinegar (if using)and stir.
- Cook for up to 45 minutes total to get a rich, caramel color. They will smell incredible and greatly reduce.
How to store: Place caramelized onions in an airtight container or a jar with a lid. Store in refrigerator for 5 days.
Freeze: Freeze the caramelized onions in small zipped lock bags. Will defrost pretty quickly and be ready to use in recipes. Freeze for up to 3 months.