I think that I’ve yet to come across a cookbook that I like more than Ad Hoc at Home. It’s a beautiful book to look at, interesting to read, the recipies are uniformly delicious, and they’re not really that hard to make. While my current go-to book is Modernist Cuisine at Home, that’s more because it’s so beautiful (so many great pictures), has great step-by-step instructions, and I learn so much every time I pick it up. But there’s something missing in MCAH; I find it somehow too cold, too precise, too much like a lab manual for organic chem. Ad Hoc at Home has a naturalness and a casualness to it that makes me want to pore through its pages slowly, drink some wine, and move to southern France (or California).
But rhapsodizing aside, one of the most useful recipes in AHAH is ‘Melted Onions’. While caramelizing onions may seem like a trivial task, anyone who has tried and wound up with a bunch of acrid-tasting onions that has gone on to ruin whatever it was put in or on, knows that there’s definitely a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to do this.
AHAH makes it easy:
1. Take 2-3 large onions, cut and separated into rings
2. Put the rings into a pan with nothing else, and over medium heat, cook until they lose most of their water and become reduced in volume, collapsed, and quite soft. You’ll have to stir them a fair bit to keep them from sticking and burning, but if they do a bit, that’s ok too – just more flavour for later. This part takes about 20 minutes or so.
3. When you’ve got a heap of collapsed onions in the pan, add 4 tbsp of butter, put on a parchment lid, and stir every 5 minutes for about 30-35 minutes more. Optionally, add a sachet with thyme, garlic, peppercorns for more flavour.
After you’re done, you’ve got perfectly caramelized onions, all while you were in the kitchen, doing something else, and with almost no effort at all. Perfect for pizza, steak, whatever. Ad Hoc calls for 8 cups of onions, and 8 tbsp of butter; I just use as many onions as I need, usually 2-3, and 4 tbsp of butter.
I made the Modernist Cuisine at Home Pressure-cooker Caramelized Onions, but it was a lot of work – it involves glass mason jars in a pressure cooker, with the needed clean-up afterwards, and the onions had a bit of a funny taste to them – just a hint of bitterness (maybe from the baking soda they use to raise the pH) that wasn’t pleasant. Given the Ad Hoc foolproof method, the rich flavour (I’m sure the butter helps), and the single-pan method, this is basically the perfect recipe for this. Enjoy!
ps I prefer my onions a bit burnt, a bit brown, so I use higher heat. I tend to use my onions for pizza, so a bit of color, more fall-apart, with a bit stronger flavour is what I want. If I was making the Ad Hoc onions for incorporation into another recipe (e.g. Ad Hoc’s ‘Caramelized Savoy Cabbage’), I’d use lower heat, stirring more often, to keep the onions white and more crunchy.