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Tigress Can Jam: Caramelized Red Onion Relish


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.

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16 Responses to “Tigress Can Jam: Caramelized Red Onion Relish”

  1. 1
    Terri Says:

    OMG! I am so making a batch next week. Thank you!

  2. 2
    tigress Says:

    your photos are great! i think we should all have some of these jars on our larder shelf.
    because i agree with you, who doesn’t LOVE caramelized onions, but yet when you think about it at dinner time you just don’t feel like making in on the spot.
    .-= tigress´s last blog ..a lot o’ new preserving books! =-.

  3. 3
    Jen S. Says:

    I love onions with thyme, but bay, hmmm. I’ll give that one a shot. And canning! Brilliant.

  4. 4
    Donata Thomas Says:

    I completely concur with your theory on the caramelized onion and savory gastric concoctions. Your blog is fun. I will visit again!

  5. 5
    Gretchen F Says:

    Last month I made an onion relish very much like this as an accompaniment to pork, but is also good spread on toast. I never thought to can it, but will give this recipe a whirl.

  6. 6
    Jamie Says:

    YUM! I’ve got some thyme I need to use up quick, I think I’ll make a jar after work!

  7. 7
    Carter @ The Kitchenette Says:

    Great minds think alike… I made the exact same recipe!

  8. 8
    Willi Says:

    Teri–Did you make it yet? My two little jars are going to be gone fast at this rate.

    Tigress–Thanks for the nice comment on my photos. I just replaced my old point and shoot with my first real SLR and this was the first photo I took. I was pretty happy with it, but have soooooo much to learn about my new camera.

    Jen–The bay was good, though I don’t know who dried Bay would be. Fresh bay has this crazy, spicy flavor that is just not present in the dry version.

    Donata–Welcome! Please do visit again. I tried another caramelized onion dish this weekend–toast spread with this relish and topped with smooshed medium boiled eggs. Hello! It was good.

    Gretchen–I bet this would be fantastic with pork because it really has a nice sweetness to it.

    Jamie–Perfect! You won’t regret it and the recipe is super fast.

    Carter–That’s so funny! I though it was by far the yummiest sounding allium recipe I ran across. I wanted to try something other than pickling :)

  9. 9
    briggsy Says:

    your recipe looks great! i wanted to do something with carmelized onions too, but worried about them being too sweet or vinegary. but these look delicious!

  10. 10
    Jessica Says:

    I agree with you. I would probably serve caramelized onions with most savory dishes if I could…and now I can!
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Pork Souvlaki on a Picnic =-.

  11. 11
    Susan Says:

    These are great. Just made some yesterday. They’re a great addition to quesadillas. Instead of canning them, I froze the leftovers in an ice cube tray.

  12. 12
    Willi Says:

    Susan–I’ll have to try them in quesadillas! Yum!

  13. 13
    Jas Says:

    I’ve got a batch of these on the stove right now! Just.. in a much larger quantity. Two onions would barely make enough for me to go through in a week.

  14. 14
    Kristabel Says:

    Hi there,

    I’m a little late in the game in finding this recipe, but I did, and tried it out today. It is absolutely delicious – thank you! I have one question, though, that I’m hoping you can answer. I wanted 8 1/2 pints, so I quadrupled the recipe. My onions must have been really big because I ended up with three extra pints. After canning them, I realized I hadn’t added any extra vinegar or wine. Do you think they’re still safe? Oh, I hope so. TIA.

  15. 15
    Noelle Says:

    Hi there -
    I just ran across this recipe after coming in from pulling the vast quantity of red florence onions that I madly planted in the spring. Do you have a sense as to how many cups of sliced onions you ended up with so I can keep the proportions correct — with canning onions I don’t want to chance things… Thanks!

  16. 16
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