Anything caramelized thrills our taste buds, for this cooking process brings out the sugars in foods, and our mouths savor sweetness. Chef Gary Danko states it aptly: “Caramelization equals flavor.” 1
Wikipedia defines this process as “the oxidation of sugar, a process used extensively in cooking for the resulting nutty flavor and brown color.” It further defines it as a type of non-enzymatic browning reaction.
Foods which contain sugar lend themselves to this process; my recipe uses two such foods. Caramelized onions are a blessed addition to my sautéed carrots, for the high sugar content of onions causes the above chemical reaction to easily occur.
Carrots also tend to caramelizes some, when cooked properly. As far back as 1747, carrots were recognized as a sweet vegetable, for then the Prussian chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf discovered that they, as well as beets, contained small amounts of sugar. 2
Our now common orange root had been established in England in the mid-sixteenth century by Flemish weavers, who were fleeing the persecution of Spain’s Phillip II. Later in 1597, it was noted by English botanist John Gerard that carrots were also growing in Germany; there is also documentation that they were a popular Lenten dish in France, as their color represented that of forbidden meat. 3
Joy of Cooking, copyrighted 1964, has a recipe for Carrots Vichy; this is a famous recipe for thinly sliced carrots that are cooked, covered, with a small amount of water (preferably water from Vichy, France), butter, and sugar. See my adaptation of this receipt at 2017/07/11.
Vichy is a spa and resort town in central France known since Roman times for its therapeutic springs. During World War II, it was the home of the French State (Etat Francais), the seat of Nazi collaborationist government. It was thus chosen, because of its relative proximity to Paris (4.5 hours by train), it had the second largest hotel capacity at the time, and its modern telephone exchange, which made it possible to reach the world by phone. 4
Today we find carrots even in desserts. We enjoy the familiar carrot cake in the West, while India knows halwa, or a fudge-like food made primarily with carrots, sugar, and milk.
My recipe is like a dessert, for it delights the child in us that loves that which is sweet. Enjoy!
- Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), p. 42.
- James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995), p. 158.
- Ibid., pp. 97, 107.
Carmelized Onions and Carrots Yields: 3-4 servings. Total prep time: 55 min.
Note: if desired, make these carrots several hours in advance, reheat just before serving, or better yet, using two pans, make a double batch of carmelized onions well ahead, for they keep in refrigerator for three days (I have even frozen them).
4 1/2 tsp oil (Avocado oil is best here for flavor and quality; coconut oil is also very good-these are the most healthy cooking oils, for olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)
1 med onion, halved and cut into 1/8 inch slices
6 extra lg carrots, or the equivalent (Organic, multi-colored carrots are excellent and inexpensive at Trader Joe’s, see photo above.)
4-5 med/lg cloves of garlic, minced (May use 2 cubes of frozen garlic; available at Trader Joe’s.)
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; available in health section at most supermarkets.)
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper, or to taste
- Be sure to cut onions in 1/8″ slices, as thinner slices will burn easily. Heat 1/2 tsp oil a large sauté pan over medium heat. Place onions in pan, when small piece sizzles in hot oil. Do not crowd your pan with too many onions, or they will steam, producing water, and it will take longer to caramelize them. (Use two pans for a double batch.) Immediately turn heat down to med/low, for the approximate 45 minutes of cooking, or they will burn and/or dry out. Be patient with cooking; don’t stop short of the perfect finished
- Let cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes (see above photo for the beginning stage of caramelization). While these are cooking, you may start carrots as directed in step 5; be sure, however, to stir onions regularly.
- Onions will start sticking to the pan at about 30 minutes; after this, stir every minute; the trick is to let them cook long enough to brown, but not burn. May have to lower temperature and add a little more oil if they start to burn. (See photo for color of onions starting to change toward the last 15 minutes, or so.)
- Onions will be deep brown in color when done (see bottom photo of onions approaching done). When cooking is complete, deglaze pan by adding water, stock, or wine; then, immediately scrape fond on bottom, using a wooden or plastic spatula made for high temperatures, incorporating these browned bits and caramelized juices into onions.
- Meanwhile scrape cleaned carrots with a sharp knife; this preserves the vitamins which are just under the skin, as opposed to peeling them. Thinly and evenly slice them at a diagonal, set aside.
- If using fresh garlic, mince now, set aside.
Heat 2 tsp oil in another large skillet over medium/high heat; when a piece of carrot added to pan sizzles strongly, or “jumps in the pan”, add half the carrots and distribute oil evenly. Do not crowd pan, or carrots will steam rather than sauté; cook this vegetable in two batches. Lower heat to medium immediately.
- Cook until carrots are soft, about 10 minutes, stirring somewhat frequently. When carrots are cooked, deglaze pan by adding liquid (water, stock, wine, or balsamic vinegar); then, immediately loosen fond with a wooden or plastic cooking spatula; this adds incredible flavor. Seat aside in a bowl and repeat steps 7-8 with remaining carrots.
- When carrots are cooked, stir into caramelized onions, which are finished. Heat thoroughly. Add garlic to hot mixture, cooking only until it smells pungent (or if using frozen garlic, cook only until it is dissolved and evenly distributed). Do not burn garlic, for details on cooking garlic, see Tomato/Feta Chicken (2016/07/25). Season with salt and pepper.
- May set aside and reheat just before serving. Leftovers are great!