I firmly believe that caramelized onions make almost any savory food taste better. You really can’t go wrong with onions cooked into a near jam-like state. I smear caramelized onions over toast, scatter them across puff pastry tarts and bake them into frittatas. They would totally be a staple ingredient in my kitchen, if only they didn’t take so long to make.
For this month’s Tigress Can Jam I had to can something with alliums in it. I could have used shallots, garlic, leeks, or chives, but when I came across a recipe for a caramelized onion relish that could be canned, I was sold. Yesterday, in under an hour, I made a batch of the relish, spooned it into jars, and popped them into a hot water bath. Now I have caramelized onions on demand! I can spread them on a grilled cheese sandwich, stir them into soup, or put a little mound on a slice of apple with a sliver of white cheddar whenever I like. And that is a very good thing.
Caramelized Red Onion Relish
Adapted from Small Batch Preserving: Over 300 Delicious Recipes by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard
I just happened to have a sprig of wonderfully fragrant, fresh bay leaves on hand, so I added them into the recipe along with a few sprigs of thyme. The herbs really complement the sweetness of the onions and the astringency of the wine.
2 large red onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup dry red wine (I used a Shiraz)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 fresh bay leaves (optional)
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste (about 1/8 teaspoon each)
Stir the onions and brown sugar together in a large, heavy bottomed enamel pot. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat until the onions are very soft and deep brown in color (about 25 minutes). If the onions stick while cooking, stir in 1/4 cup of water and stir vigorously, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
Add the wine, vinegar, and herbs. Turn the heat to high and bring the onions to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove the relish from the heat, pick out the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Pack the relish into hot half pint jars, seal, and process for 10 minutes.
For step-by-step information on the canning process, please refer to the Small-Batch Preserving book or Well Preserved by Mary Ann Dragan. When canning low acid foods like onions it is especially important to use the right amount of acid (vinegar, lemon juice, wine) and process the jars for the recommended time.