Sunday, March 6, 2011


I've been thinking about what it means to brown an onion. Using Marcella's writings I describe onions becoming golden and then light brown (and presumably after this dark brown and then burnt). I think there is an expectation that it takes about 5 minutes for a onion to become golden and starting to brown from a cold start using a medium high heat (for example, in a risotto). But I'm reading someone else (not in the Italian space) and they say cook the onion until "light brown". Immediately I think of that post golden phase, but I wonder if they really mean lightly golden. Is anyone aware of whether the language used to describe a phase of cooking an onion is consistent among cooks?
21 hours ago · · · See Friendship
  • Michael Ryan likes this.
    • David Downie You know, I may have thought about this too much. It would appear that red onions cooked in olive oil do not behave in the same way as brown onions cooked in butter. I just waited until it looked light brown, as directed. I didn't see a golden phase at all. Pic on my wall for those interested.
      19 hours ago · · 1 person
    • Michael Ryan Very informative and entertaining David :). Good Afternoon Marcella, Hope your weekend is off to a great start!
      7 hours ago ·
    • Marcella Hazan
      Let us assume we are talking about sautéing, and not sweating, which is a different technique, and let us also assume that the internal color of the onion when raw is white. When it cooks in an uncovered pan in whatever fat you are using, the first phase will see it turn from flat white to translucent. Some people think it is already done. For Italian cooking, it is not. As you continue cooking and stirring, it acquires a deeper hue than it had originally, and that hue may be described as golden. For most dishes I prefer to continue cooking it until its color resembles that of a pale nut shell or dark blond wood. Depending on what you are making, it may now be ready. If you want a fuller release of the onion's flavor so that it may more intensely be transferred to the other ingredients that are to follow, continue cooking until is a medium to dark brown, but obviously not charred. The process may take from 5 to 8 minutes, depending on how fine the onion has been cut, on how much room it has in the pan, on how efficient is the heat conduction ability of the pan, and how the flame is regulated. I prefer a steady, but not excessively brisk simmer, but other cooks may like to use faster heat.

      I can see the golden phase, and you cannot. What of it? Just be a cook, David, and develop a sense of when the onion is ready. A little less analysis, a little more instinct.
      11 minutes ago ·
    • David Downie Thank you Marcella. Sometimes I think I am not very good with colour. I also have trouble spotting things right in front of me in the kitchen, such as the cheese grater. As for the onion, I can see the golden phase when I cook a brown onion in butter, but have trouble with a red onion. Perhaps it is all in my mind. I am much more instinctive a cook than I was when I began, but I do like to think about things as well. It could be my training.

      My Madhur Jaffrey stew turned out very nicely in the end, golden onion or not. It is amazing how many dishes may be cooked with lamb shoulder, at least to me. I have a few I cook regularly now, and they are all different and delicious. I think it is my favourite cut of meat, so far.
      2 seconds ago

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