This past Christmas was a time of gluttonous laziness, of TV/movie marathons, and of giddy merriment with my family and friends. It was pure gold. I managed to be somewhat productive somewhere near the end of my two and half week visit to Ontario. Typically when people think of productivity, they might think about reducing the amount of old crap still stored at their parents house (sorry mom, maybe next year?) or finally figuring out the best way to organize the hundreds of pictures stored on their computer. Productive for me over the holidays meant making a very inessential but incredibly delicious caramelized red onion relish. I hesitate to finish that sentence the way I did because my dad, brother, and I had a very long discussion whether the term relish really represented the final product, despite that this was the name that came with the recipe. I really quite detest the word relish. It will forever make me think of a condiment I have never been fond of: chopped, sweetened pickles in a squeezey tube. I did not want my creation associated with such an abomination of fine pickles. Jelly? Jam? Spread? Tapenade? No, it did not fit into any of these categories. Relish it would have to be and afterall, I do relish these onions.
Rhetoric aside, I first came across this recipe through my friend Lindsay who had recently partied hard on a Friday night canning an abundance of home-made goods with some friends. She later served me some of the ‘relish’ and it has since haunted me. On a few occasions, I purchased enough red onions to make a large batch, only to let too much time pass and watch the onions disappear, one by one, into various other dishes. Wracked with guilt about stripping all of these onions of their chance to be truly great, I could not let the year finish without giving some choice red onions a beautiful life.
I went shopping and came home with wine, onions, canning jars and some other project related stuff. A few days went by, with my mother’s sweet voice inquiring “when are you going to do something with all those onions you bought?” You see, my mother knows me. She’s watched me execute craft after craft since I was a child, fully immersing myself in the idea of something while not necessarily following through with as much intensity or enthusiasm. I owed it to her and the onions to get this task done.
I can’t provide the original source of the recipe as I received it in the form of a picture text message. The recipe is from a cookbook owned by a friend of a friend.
Here are the directions:
Caramelized Onion Relish
(I tripled the recipe and ended up with over 2 L of goods to can)
- 2 large red onions
- 1 cup of dry red wine
- 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/8 tsp each sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1) Enlist your mother to help you thinly slice the onions, because it’s always nicer to cry with someone.
2) Once sliced, caramelize the onions with the sugar over medium heat for about 45 minutes, stirring often. Make sure to use a deep enough saucepan to accommodate all the wine you will heartily add.
3) Once caramelized, pour in wine, vinegar, salt and pepper and let simmer until most of the liquid absorbs/evaporates.
4) If you are canning, transfer the mixture into hot, sterilized jars and process in a water bath for about 10-15 minutes. Here are some basic canning instructions if you are unfamiliar with the process.
There are an infinite number of things you can do with these onions. They pair fantastically with roasted meats and cheeses, add as a side to your steak or steak sandwich, grill them into your grilled cheese, or bake them into your next batch of cornbread. If you prefer meatless, roast on top of portobello mushrooms and top with cheese (or tahini sauce if you prefer vegan) and smoked sea salt. These ruby-red, floppy slices of onion will likely compliment any meal you make, so get creative and come up with some exciting combinations.
I would suggest that you avoid making this dish if you plan on seeing people later in the evening. Foolishly, I simply removed my apron when I finished the task and continued on with my evening plans. A few hours later as we were walking into a pub, I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I smelled of onions. I asked a good friend who assured me “no, I’ve been hanging out with you all night and I haven’t noticed anything”, to which I replied, “but… just smell my hair…” “Ok, yeah, you really smell like onions”. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll have friends that will still love you despite your stench and, even better, who will still continue into the pub with you.