Layers of deceit: Why do so many recipes contain a lie about onions?

Caramelized onionsOver at Slate, Tony Scocca is fed up with recipes that perpetrate lies; in particular, the fallacy that you can caramelize onions in 10 minutes. He quotes recipes from such respectable sources as The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and Madhur Jaffrey, all of which have published recipes with a 5 - 10 minute time period for caramelizing onions. Yet, as Scocca proves, and as Julia Child confirms, it simply takes 35 to 45 minutes to properly caramelize onions.

Why the myth? Scocca hypothesizes that the demand for short, 30-minute or under recipes is so intense that recipe writers are simply misleading their readers as to how long it takes to properly cook onions and, by extension, to properly perform other kitchen techniques. And, as he points out, there "is the deeper problem with all the deceit around the question of caramelized onions. The premise is wrong. The faster you try to do it, the more you waste your time."

We'd be interested in hearing whether any of our community members feel there's validity to this argument. Do you believe some recipes have encouraged incorrect or abbreviated techniques to be able to put an "under 30-minute" label on a recipe?


  • ellabee  on  5/3/2012 at 5:48 PM

    I have no idea if '30-minute' pressure is the reason, but to me caramelized onions are one of those things that are eminently worth making in volume in periodic or once-a-week cooking sessions, to be used in recipes throughout the week (and/or frozen for future use). That way, they really can form part of a "30 minute" meal that comes together quickly.

  • ellabee  on  5/6/2012 at 4:11 PM

    Just came across this relevant pointer from Anna Thomas (of Vegetarian Epicure and Love Soup): :: I am not here to make rules, except this one: when you think your onion is caramelized, keep cooking it slowly for another half hour. You will thank me. :: It's part of an excellent interview with Thomas by Roger Ebert, an old friend.

  • ellabee  on  5/10/2012 at 1:29 PM

    One last thought: J. Kenji-Alt at Serious Eats has a method that claims to produce caramelized onions in 20 minutes at medium or medium-high heat. It also involves added sugar, a small amount of baking soda, and using a bit of water in the late stages to deglaze the pan and prevent scorching. Avert your eyes, Anna Thomas! <g>

Post a comment

Comments have been closed for this post.

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!