Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oignons Glacés à Brun

I have lots of ideas for blog posts I'd love to share with you this Thanksgiving. There's still a lot left to do in my kitchen and I may be a tad overzealous in thinking I can get it all done and write about it, so no promises. We'll see how it goes (but I'm feeling pretty optimistic)!

Personally, I think side dishes are the best part of Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey's great, don't get me wrong, but when I go back for seconds (and thirds), I'm loading up my plate with sides. This year I'm making, among other things, pearl onions glazed in butter and sugar to create a deep brown color and a rich, caramelized flavor. It's called oignons glacés à brun. They're super easy to make and offer a big wow factor to enjoy.

Peeling pearl onions can either be the most annoying process known to man or it can turn into a meditative experience that comes from choosing a relaxed approach. When you focus on a repetitive process with the intention to let everything else go (in yoga, it's called japa), your parasympathetic nervous system steps in to help back you away from the cliff of stress. And who doesn't need a little calm, especially in the face of cooking Thanksgiving dinner?! Here's a trick: put the onions in a pot of boiling water for a minute, which will make the skins a lot easier to peel off. Leave most of the root in tact so the onions keep their shape (just shave off a sliver of the bottom with your paring knife to neaten them up).

Lay out your peeled pearl onions in a single layer in a sauté pan. Add a tablespoon of (unsalted) butter, a generous pinch of salt, and about a teaspoon of sugar. Fill the pan with enough water to come only half way up the sides of the onions.

You'll need to make a fancy contraption called a cartouche, or a parchment paper lid. The cartouche pushes the steam back into the onions, cooking them quickly and trapping in moisture. I swear we used a cartouche in every single class at the French Culinary Institute. It's an awesome little invention and I'll be sure to share other ways you can use it in your kitchen.

Fold a piece of parchment paper into quarters. Think of it like a little book and keep the "binding" to the left. The folded seams stay at the top. Fold the paper in half from the bottom to the top, and then repeat that fold two more times until you have what looks like a paper airplane.

Measure the circumference of your pan by placing the tip of your cartouche in the middle and then cutting the parchment where it touches the rim. Unfold your paper airplane et voilà, your very own cartouche! Très bien!

Snuggle your cartouche right on top of the onions and turn on your heat to medium-high. Allow the water to simmer down to almost nothing. The timing really depends on the size of your pan, but plan on checking in after about 10 minutes. If it's your first time, don't go too far. Stay on top of the situation. Stab an onion with the tip of your paring knife to make sure it's tender (and if it's not, just add a little more water and let it simmer a bit longer). 

Once you have about a tablespoon of water left, remove the cartouche.

As the water evaporates, the sugar will begin to caramelize and coat your pan in a lovely shade of brown. Get those onions to roll around in there so they don't stick. When things start getting really brown, add a little bit of water to the pan (like a teaspoon), give the pan a good shake, and you'll see the onions start to take on all of that delicious brown color. You can repeat this process—adding water, shaking the pan, coating the onions—until you get the color you're looking for. Any shade of brun tastes good, folks, so it's really up to you.

You can makes these in advance, store them in the fridge, and then just warm them through before dinner. This would be a great side dish to bring to someone's house. You could add some lardons in there for a salty kick to compliment the sweetness of the onions. I mean, lardons make everything taste ridiculous. Just have fun with the process; it's a great one to add to your cooking repertoire.

Ok, I'm off to make a pumpkin pie, set my Thanksgiving table, and hopefully share it all with you. If you don't hear from me it's because I got caught up in the moment. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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