Tom Scocca wonders why recipe writers don’t tell the truth about how long caramelizing onions really takes.
Onions do not caramelize in five or 10 minutes. They never have, they never will-yet recipe writers have never stopped pretending that they will. I went on Twitter and said so, rudely, using CAPS LOCK. A chorus of frustrated cooks responded in kind (“That’s on some bullshit. You want caramelized onions? Stir for 45 minutes”).
As long as I’ve been cooking, I’ve been reading various versions of this lie, over and over. Here’s Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh: “Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions turn a medium-brown colour.” The Boston Globe, on preparing pearl onions for coq au vin: “Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden.” The Washington Post, on potato-green bean soup: “Add the onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.”