Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back to basics: How to perfectly caramelize onions and garlic

I'm learning more and more that the best possible end product is the sum of it's parts.  Each part of the process needs to be done well for it to be magic.  At the restaurant I am a lowly prep girl (ahm, really not so low).  But as the meat cook said to me the other day, each dish has me written all over it.  The care I put into my work transfers and builds with the care the line cooks put in.  If my escarole is dirty, my bacon dice sloppy, or my asparagus shaved into inconsistent slices - it affects the whole quality and outcome of the dish.  In terms of onions and garlic - no matter what the end product - if you take the time to caramelize them properly it will add more flavor than if you did a half-ass job.  This is not easily done on the fly, so to speak, but you can start it and watch it minimally while you do something else.  At the restaurant we let let ours cook low and slow for 1-2 hours, stirring the onions occasionally but never touching the garlic.  Here's how:

Slice your onions thin.  Oil your pan and on low heat throw on the onions.  Don't touch.  When the bottom starts to get a little color use a wooden spoon to stir or move the bottom to the top (and vice versa).  The moisture coming out of the onions will deglaze the pan helping to color the onions.  If it's sticking too much you can add a little water to help it go.  Keep up the the cycle until they're nice and caramelized.  They will taste sweet.  Add them to anything egg related, to pasta, to sauteed vegetables, to top off your hamburger, or puree with cooked fruit and a splash of vinegar for a nice cheese accompaniment.

Cut off the bottom of a head of garlic so it's exposed.  Spread a little oil around the head, put it in a pan exposed side up, cover it with foil, and pop it in the oven around 350F (hotter will take less time, lower heat will take more).  Don't touch.  You can check on it an hour later to see if it needs more time.  When it's almost done you will smell it everywhere.  It will smell awesome...if you like garlic.  To get the garlic out just squeeze the whole head and it will pop or smoosh right out.  Puree with lemon juice (and maybe a little vinegar),oil, and salt for a great full bodied vinaigrette (vin ratio 3-1, oil-vin).  Or spread it on toast.

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