Caramelized onions have a way of making the laziest possible food look like you gave half a crap about making it. You have friends thinking they’re winning brunch by posting pics showing off how artfully they can slice an avocado? Slow clap their brunch into oblivion by sending them a photo of a thick piece of expensive-looking toast smeared with soft goat cheese and some caramelized onions. Or perhaps some soft scrambled eggs with caramelized onions and shredded gruyere. You should also scatter some roughly chopped herbs across everything, because that’s a surefire sign that the food is not only delicious, but that the person who cooked it really knows what the hell they’re doing.
This awesome power of one-upmanship comes from the universal understanding that caramelized onions are a true labor of love taking forever to make. It involves standing by a stove for close to an hour, gently stirring perfectly sliced onions in bubbling butter nearly constantly to keep them from burning, slowly drawing out their liquids and cooking their natural sugars until they become a deep shade of amber. You make the slightest error by stepping away and the whole effort is ruined. This takes talent and commitment.
So, obviously, we’re going to find a way to half-ass these caramelized onions so you can sleep in.
Method One: Slow Cooker
If something is meant to be cooked low and slow, then it just makes sense that you can do it in a slow cooker. That’s just simple truth in advertising.
Slice up your onions (any kind you like), toss them with a hefty pinch of salt, some oil and/or melted butter, and a regular pinch of baking soda*. Then put them in the slow cooker, leave the lid slightly ajar for steam to escape, and cook on low for 10-12 hours. Do this before bed and you’ll wake up to a house that smells like onions, which is more enjoyable than it sounds. But if you’re not into that sort of thing, you may want to try...
Method Two: Microwave
This takes a little more time, so you’re not going to be able to jump straight out of bed and get to toast making. But you won’t have to be constantly supervising the onions, meaning you can safely jump in the shower or go about doing your morning business, whatever that may be.
Step one is to get all the liquid purged from the onions: slicing them up, tossing them with a bit pinch of salt in a microwave-safe bowl, covering it with plastic wrap with a small slit cut into it, then microwaving on high for about 15 minutes. Once that’s done, drain all the liquid out and down the drain, then toss the wilted onions with oil/butter and a pinch of baking soda*.
Microwave uncovered for 10 minutes, stir and drain again (if necessary), and keep repeating until your onions are looking nice and brown.
*You’ve probably been wondering about the baking soda, even though I’m a professional who does this sort of thing all the time and you should trust me when I say to do something. But in case you’re a Doubting Debbie and just need to know why this is important, it’s baking soda slightly raises the pH of the onions and promote browning. This is a complex scientific matter I’ve covered before when making pretzel waffles (for people who really care about making breakfast), so you can go read that if my assurances here are not enough for you.
Method Three: Planning Ahead
Caramelized onions freeze beautifully, so make a gigantic batch in that slow cooker, divide it up into tiny sandwich baggies, press out the air and freeze. A few minutes under running water or a quick zap in the microwave can make any old “boring” time into wild, exciting onion time.