This post was inspired by Tom Scocca who last Wednesday released an article on Slate.com alleging a vast conspiracy among recipe writers. He claims that the "Recipe Writing Guild" is intentionally deceitful about how long it takes to caramelize onions and it wasn't long until the "Food-Arazzi" jumped on the link bait bandwagon.
I disagreed, and this is my rebuttal.
Sources Cited in this Video
Layer's of Deceit by Tom Scocca, Slate.com - The article that started it all!
The Bitter Truth About Sweet Onions - LA Times Daily Dish
Onion Fraud: Consider the Caramelized - Food52.com
Why Recipe Writers Lie About Caramelizing Onions - TheKitchn.com
Chicken Quesadillas with Legit Caramelized Onions - FoodandWine.com
"Oh Snap Hommey! You Just Got Kitten Memed!"
Cant wait to get out my Lodge cast iron skillet and commence to some 10 minute caramelized onions.
The end result have the color of caramelized onion, but do they have the caramelized sugar? It seems like all the color came from infusion in the deglazed fond-- not from caramelization of the sugars. And by repeatedly adding a deglazing liquid, the temp is brought back down below the caramelization temperatures of the sugars in onions (fructose-230F, sucrose and glucose-320F).
Could these be blind tasted against a 45 minute batch with no discernable (or negligible) taste difference?
What an awesome takedown! That was brilliant! I hope you never get me in your sites!
Which do you* think would be the best cast iron for this purpose?:
Well-seasoned cast iron (dark black)
Smooth, glossy enamel cast iron (usually white or cream)
Matte enamel cast iron (usually black)
Satin-enamel (usually black)
* Any registered forum member who has actual experience cooking onions with cast iron
Wow, that was a pretty strong rebuttal. I would be fairly frustrated with this situation as well, if I were an online recipe writer.
Someone had a good weekend at the evil recipe writing guild convention, haha.
Sorry I took so long to respond. I've been on vacation in Napa for this week and have no-wifi access (currently at a cafe hammering out e-mails).
Thanks, glad you enjoyed the video. I've been able to also replicate this on my large electrical burner at home. Haven't tried it on a home version of a gas stove.
Obviously, the overall point of the video, besides the technique, is that people shouldn't make such large generalization when it comes to cooking unless they can really back it up. If the article was Scocca arguing why he thinks it's better to take a long time when caramelizing onions, I would've had absolutely no issue. But saying that's it's never been done and that it can't be done warranted a response and a couple snarky wise cracks IMO. ;-)
Don't forget the magical butter and tap water.
Great question. Yes, it is true that it takes time and heat to break down the fructose chains in the onion which is what makes caramelized onions sweet. However, I'm not convinced that it takes 40 minutes either to fully break down the onion's fructose chains. I've searched for scientific literature on this point to come up with a precise time and temperature, but have yet to find it. What I do know though is that this process results in extremely sweet, soft and dark brown onions that have no hint of raw onion flavor.
I haven't done a blind taste test and I wouldn't go as far as saying that these onions are better then the ones cooked over slow heat for 45-60 minutes. If I were to make a classic French Onion soup, I would most likely caramelize my onions over a long period of time.
My issue with Scocca's article wasn't that he said caramelized onions that are cooked for at least 40 minutes are better; my issue was with him saying "It's never been done" and it is "impossible."
The onions that resulted from this video were used to make a caramelized onion scone that was absolutely amazing (the scone definitely tasted like caramelized onions).
Also, the fond is created by the sugars in the onion caramelizing on the bottom of the pan. Just enough water is added so that the surface of the pan cools just enough to release the fond, but the core of the pan is still raging hot, which allows for the surface of the pan to recharge quickly. So with this technique, you're basically controlling the surface temperature of your pan with water instead of the heat source. This is why I stress the importance of having a pan that has the ability to retain heat. This technique can not be done with a nonstick or thin aluminum pan.
In Short: Would I use this technique to make French Onion Soup? No. Does this technique result in caramelized onions that are soft, brown and "onion sweet" that would work well for pizzas, baked goods and burgers; in my opinion and experience, yes.
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the video. This sort of thing isn't really in my nature or what this site is about. However, I felt that someone had to stand up and address the lack of research and authority that many food articles are written with and that some within the culinary niche need to understand that the influence they enjoy is a huge responsibility that they shouldn't take lightly.
I think they'd all work fine. I'm not sure if one is absolutely better then the other. I do know this though; all of them are more suited for this task then the pan I used in the video, so I know they'd all get the job done.
@Timothy R Garcia,
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the rebuttal. One point I wish I was more clear on wasn't that I was necessarily defending recipe writers (there are some that are really good, others, not so much). My real issue was with Scocca making such bold statements and accusations when he obviously didn't have a firm grasp on what he was talking about and then influential voices in the culinary niche carrying the torch without looking at the article analytically first.
Damn evil empire. They ruin everything.
Again, sorry for the time it took for me to respond. I'll be on vacation until Friday, so I'll be able to read any additional questions or comments posted here, but probably won't have a chance to respond or comment myself until then.
caramelized onions in my cast iron pan last night in less than 10 minutes. Must have been the use of the magic wooden spoon made from fois producing ducks.
@Jacob, enjoy your well deserved vacation in Napa!
I stumbled onto your site while searching for a chicken thigh recipe. I am from across the pond and had never heard of Tom Scocca. I would not want be in his shoes, you humorously demolished him.
Traditionally I have been using the slow way of caramelising onions. I tried your quick and dirty way and must say the results were pleasing.
Great site. I have downloaded al your audio podcasts and listen to them during my commute. I really appreciate the in depth discussion of the various topics. Thanks for all you hard work.
Thanks so much for putting this video together. I have been using the 10 minute technique for years. It was just by accident at first, but the result is excellent so I stuck with it, but I have always felt that I must be doing something wrong to get the same product in less time than anyone else on the planet. Apparently, our local cows are drinking plenty of whiskey too!
As for the pan, I either use stainless or cast iron, whichever strikes my fancy, and they are both fine.
whats it like to get your ass kissed on a public forum
Bravo for this video. I currently attend Le Cordon Bleu and we caramelize onions exactly the same way. Just as people have been doing so for centuries.
I should say that while it is true they teach,(at Le Cordon Bleu), the slow and low for French onion soup, however they also go over the fast with gas method which you showed in your video.
Well I was wrong. My 9K BTU Frigidaire burner took all of 8 minutes to caramelize a half a yellow onion in a 8 inch Update saute pan. The taste was sweet and smokey and went well on my pizza.
and for his next trick, Chef Burton will show us how to make a sink full of dirty dishes instantly disappear...
Looks like you need to set Wikipedia straight too, eh. ;-)
Caramelized onions, which are used in dishes like French onion soup. Onions require 30 to 45 minutes of cooking to caramelize.
3. ^ Scocca, Tom. Layers of Deceit: Why do recipe writers lie and lie and lie about how long it takes to caramelize onions? Slate.com, May 2, 2012.
I'm no chef, just an avid cook. Food Snobs, and yes, I've said it, often have their heads so far up their arses they refuse to come up for air long enough to...well, you know what I'm saying.
Some folks just refuse to consider any method that is not "purist" or conventional, especially within the realm of any established art forms.
Thanks for proving your argument through actual demonstration and facts. I'm definitely going to employ this method whenever it is applicable.
Do you feel there is any validity to the argument that this 10-minute method over-browns and over-cooks the onions too early in the process via the high heat & butter?
I found the SLATE article, and here is a typical response to your video rebuttal in the comments section of this article: "I watched that [your video], and laughed. Those are not caramelized onions. Those are 'slightly burned onions that look similar to caramelized onions."
Personally, I don't care if the end result is sweet, soft brown onions.