posted originally on nbl. see what you're missing if you don't read it?
one of the most satisfying cooking jobs is sauteing onions. i heard some “yesssss’s!” and also some “wha’s?” there. let me explain – as if you could stop me.
caramelizing onions. it means slowly sauteing onions to the point where they release their natural sugars and take on a nice tan color.
i like to finely chop my onions with a mandoline while heating up the saute pan. a little bit of oil and a liberal amount of butter, and then the onions go into the pan. the butter sizzles a little – not too much if you’ve heated the pan just right – and spreads out into the oil with a satisfying little bit of bubbling. the onions go into the pan. more sizzling. a little bit of kosher salt and pepper. now the fun begins.
the first transformation of the onions is from opaque to “clear.” this happens within a couple of minutes. i love the feel and the sound of my wooden spoon in the pan. if you don’t love this, too, then you probably DON’T love cooking. my theory is that if you love cooking, it’s not just the results you enjoy. it’s the senses that are tickled with each adventure in the kitchen. not just smell and taste. cooking is a very tactile experience. [one of the big things that i lost when m.s. came into my life is my “knife skills.” i was pretty good. i miss that. that’s why i can’t live without the mandoline.] and aural. the onions sizzle and pop. not too much popping, or your heat is too high.
if you’re patient, the big payoff’s coming. the caramelization. when i watch tv chefs, i’m always amazed at how many of them in the hurry to get the dish finished cheat on this step. 9 times out of ten, they don’t do this right. they just brown the onions. caramelization happens much more slowly than “browning.” when you do it right, the onions are thorough cooked, completely limp and at your mercy in the pan. keep cooking (steady. steady.), and they give up. the onions start to LIGHTLY brown, giving up.
you’ve won. you’ve tasted caramelized onions. the best cooks of caramelized onions are cooks who run a grill. they’ve got the space and time to keep a pile of “grilled” onions going, cooking them to perfection to grace your burger, hot dog, meatloaf.
there's a legend in my family that my little sister, pj, between the ages of 5 and 17 NEVER ordered anything in a restaurant except a grilled-cheese sandwich and tomato soup. i cannot verify this, but neither can i deny. i have no memory of her ordering anything other than this menu item. these were the days that this was a staple on every restaurant menu. at least in the restaurants my family frequented.
the cheese sandwich was invariably the type made with a wonder-bread type white bread and single slices of american cheese. there was simply no other kind of grilled cheese sandwich. and the tomato soup? of course it was campbell's or a campbell's clone. i must admit that this was one of my favorite choices, too. of COURSE it was. it was one of yours, too, wasn't it? it was WONDERFUL. still is.
yet, we grow. we mature.
and, yet, we STILL sometimes need the comfort foods of our childhood.
bill makes THE best grilled cheese sandwich. THE best. it's not rocket science. yet, i have NEVER had a better grilled-cheese sandwich. never. never ever.
everybody has perfected their own version. bill's starts with our favorite italian bread from breadsmith (if you don't know breadsmith, look it up. try it. they're all over. you may have one around you and don't know it.) he cuts it pretty thick (about half an inch), slathers one side with butter, and places lots of hand-cut-from-the-block cheddar cheese and tomato slices (the tomato is layered between the cheddar cheese) on the unbuttered side into a preheated (the preheated pan is A MUST) frying pan (buttered side down. duh). places the other buttered-on-one-side piece of bread (buttered side up. duh), and fries until crispy brown on the outside. flip it to grill the other side. duh. the result is always really nice and crispy on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside. patience and vigilance will reward you.
i LOVE campbell's tomato soup. but i also LOVE a more rustic country italian tomato soup. here's my quick-cheat-hybrid recipe:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 t chopped garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cans campbell's tomato soup
1 can chopped tomatoes (14.5 oz.)
2 cups chicken stock (you can use veggie stock if'n you want)
salt, pepper, thyme, lawry's seasoned salt, dried mustard (about 1/2t of each)
caramelize the onion in 2T oil and 2T butter. add the garlic, saute for about a minute. add the wine to onions and garlic. reduce for a minute or two. add the cans of soup, the tomatoes, the stock, and the seasonings. simmer for about 15 minutes. drizzle a little half-n-half into bowl of soup if'n you want. i do.