Simply Cover Your Pot With A Lid To Speed Up Onion Browning

Not to be confused with caramelizing, browning is the result of a Maillard reaction in which sugars and proteins in food transform when heated at high temperatures. We usually associate browning with a smoky, slightly bitter crust on umami-rich meats and mushrooms, but onions are equally capable of browning. Browning onions creates an entirely different flavor profile that enhances their distinctive bite and aroma while also adding smoky, meaty notes to the mix.

While browning onions takes a fraction of the time that it takes to caramelize them, it'll still take 15 to 20 minutes on the stove to achieve the desired color, flavor, and texture. A typical recipe for browning onions involves sauteeing them in a skillet uncovered over medium-high heat, then letting the onions sit for a minute or two before flipping them to achieve even browning and cooking. However, you can expedite the browning by simply covering the sizzling onions with a lid.

The lid will trap the smoke and heat rising from the onions and oil, effectively steaming the onions as they brown. You won't reduce the flame, so you'll want to keep a watchful eye on the onions to ensure they don't burn or stick to the pan. A generous portion of cooking oil or butter will help prevent burning. Since you'll be browning onions over high heat, oils with high smoke points like avocado or safflower are optimal.

The best ways to use your browned onions

Browned onions have a robust onion taste with a smokier, bitter finish. Unlike caramelized onions that transform into a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth reduction, quickly browned onions retain their shape and offer a firm texture with slightly charred, crunchy edges. The type of fat you choose to fry them in also plays a role in the flavor, with light olive oil or butter adding more savoriness.

Browned onions are typical additions to ultra-rich, savory dishes that require equally robust flavors to complement them. They're also common foundations for heavily spiced Indian curries, standing up to strong, toasted spices like curry leaves, garam masala, cloves, and ginger. They'd also make elegant toppings for red meat dishes like filet mignon, burgers, and roast beef sandwiches. You can also top portobello steaks or a meaty lentil soup with browned onions for a vegan-friendly application.

Or, you can use them in addition to caramelized onions for an even more complex texture and flavor in French onion soup. They'll also taste delicious paired with rich or strong types of cheese like blue cheese, sharp cheddar, goat cheese, and gruyere. Add browned onions to a fancy grilled cheese sandwich with shredded gruyere, white cheddar, and sun-dried tomatoes for a flavor trifecta of creamy, aromatic, and umami as well as a wonderful cooked yet crunchy bite to complement the oozing cheese.