Everybody knows how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, right? Place a slab of Velvetta between two piece of Wonder bread, plop it in a buttered skillet, and you have a meal in minutes. But for those who’d like more of a gourmet touch, consider adding caramelized onions to the melted gooeyness—or using sourdough bread or Gruyere or Swiss cheese.
Caramelizing onions has always been a huge pain in the potato. I knew I should caramelize, but I never found the time. Food gurus say there’s a better ways to achieve the rich, mahogany look that comes with the low/slow cooking of onions. Epicurious swears by the crockpot; Alton Brown by the microwave—though photos of his “caramelized” onions look like little, gummy clumps.
My friend, a zealous caramelizer, says those shortcuts are hogwash. He insists that it takes 25 minutes or more, on low heat, to break down and brown the natural sugar in onions. My last batch took 50 minutes.
As they say, “All good things come to those who wait.” That’s certainly true of caramelized onions. There’s so much you can do with those rich, brown nuggets of goodness. My friend adds a caramelized mixture to his hamburgers along with some bits of bacon, mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce and other mystery seasonings, (possibly celery salt) and they come off the grill with a juicy, melt-in-your-mouth flavor.
Caramelized onions are also divine atop a crostini blanketed with melted cheese. They greatly enhance mashed and baked potatoes, pizza, omelets, pasta, dips, gravies, and sautéed mushrooms.
Caramelized Onions the Easy Way
Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, or a mixture of olive oil and butter, (about 1 teaspoon per onion). With the burner on medium high, heat the oil until it’s shimmering. Add the onion slices and stir to coat the onions with the oil. Spread onions evenly over the pan and let cook, stirring occasionally. After about 10 minutes, add a bit of salt. Cook for a minimum of 25 minutes. Freeze what you don’t use, if there’s any left after the family nibblers show up.
For a good step-by-step slide show picturing the gradual process of caramelizing, see Simple Recipes. The recipe below is adapted from 5dollardinner. It’s an adult version of the old standby and best served with a bowl of creamy tomato soup.
Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
Yield: 4 grilled cheese sandwiches
- 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil or butter
- 2 large white onion, sliced
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar (optional)
- 1 tsp. brown sugar (optional)
- 4 slices Gruyere, Swiss, or Cheddar cheese
- 8 slices sourdough or whole wheat bread
- In a skillet, add the olive oil (or butter). Add the sliced onions and heat them on low, stirring often. After about 10 minutes, add a bit of salt. Cook, at least, for a total of 25 minutes or until caramelized. Toward end of cooking time, add sugar and vinegar, if using.
- Butter the outsides of the bread for grilling.
- Place caramelized onions on plate and gently pat till dry.
- Add cheese and caramelized onions onto the buttered breads. Grill on a skillet or electric griddle.