I’m here today with a humble invitation: French Onion everything.
To French an onion is to caramelize it (not technically, but you know and love the soup from whence these onions came). Caramelizing a vegetable means, in not so precise terms, that we’re using the vegetables natural sugars, heat, fat, and time to transform a usually sharp root into… basically candy.
Compelling, right? Not just compelling, it’s undeniable kitchen magic!
Can I be honest about something? This week doing things feels a touch more difficult that usual. It’s hard to describe but best I can tell, we’ve all got sandbags around our ankles and a weighted blanket over our shoulders – emotionally – ya know?
I’ve wavered this week in my desire to cook every single meal for myself. At times like these, salted almonds and buttered popcorn is absolutely a balanced meal – no judgements. But even still, there is meditation to be found in the kitchen when I can muster the will.
Caramelized onions are my meditative balance between effort and ease. There’s chopping and stirring. Stirring and resting. Stirring and daydreaming. Stirring and staring at the wall. Whatever you need there’s space for it with these onions and absolute reward when these onions sweeten to candy and melt inside a grilled cheese sandwich.
Here’s what you’ll need:
• Two onions, peeled and sliced into thin half moons. We’re making enough onions for two or three sandwiches (depending on your generosity) or enough for leftovers for tomorrow’s scrambled eggs.
• Unsalted butter and olive oil to cook the onions down to delicious. Fat is always the answer. The olive oil helps keep the milk solids in the butter from scorching.
• A few good pinches of granulated sugar to help the onions caramelize.
• Salt and pepper for balance – the salt will also help draw the moisture out of the onions as they cook.
• Fresh thyme for depth though dried thyme would be just fine.
• Gruyere cheese or any kind you might prefer. I love the nutty sharpness of gruyere. Whole grain mustard might also be nice to coat the bread.
• Sliced bread – whatever ya got, whatever ya like.
We’ll start by cooking down the onions since this takes some sweet time.
Heat the oil and melt the butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onions and toss the to coat in fat.
Allow the onions to cook down. This requires a balance of attention and inattention. No need to stir too frequently, the onions need some quality time with the heat to really break down.
Add a good pinch of sugar, salt and pepper as the onions cook. Add the thyme leaves, too.
The onions will take on a deep brown color and melt together into an almost jam.
Add a splash of beef broth or any broth really. Water and wine are also great substitutes.
Deglaze the pan with liquid, scraping any flavorful brown bits from the bottom of the pan, coaxing the onions into jam.
Remove the onions from the hot pan and let them cool slightly while you assemble the sandwiches.
Spread several slices of bread with softened butter. Some people spread the inside of the bread with mayonnaise which you either think is a fantastic or horrific idea.
Top with grated cheese and generous spoonfuls of onions.
As with any grilled cheese, place the sandwiches in a hot pan and flip when browned.
I always burn at least one sandwich but that’s just who I am as a person – bad with toast.
Next week we’ll add a super comforting tomato soup to this sandwich situation but for now – enjoy the most delicious onions on the most simple sandwich.
Photos with Jon Melendez.