Labor Day. Football season. Hmm, which direction should my column go? Both are food centric, so what method and recipe can do double duty?
I struggled with thoughts: tailgating, or holiday get-togethers, which way should I go? Sitting at my table, plunging potato chips into my caramelized onion dip, looking at the blank screen on my laptop, I kept thinking there must be something that would fit my dilemma.
There was, and I was shoving in my mouth.
A caramelized onion is, well, just darn good with tons of uses. I try to keep a container of them in my refrigerator at all times for that sweet-savory flavor that they can impart to so many foods. Top a burger or a hot dog, add to sautéed mushrooms, stir into mashed potatoes, French onion soup – the list of uses is only limited by your imagination.
And of course, an onion dip, the ultimate get-together food.
What makes a good caramelized onion? Patience. It takes time to coax out that unique flavor, but the reward is worth it. I’ve seen and used lots of shortcut methods, mainly sprinkling some brown sugar over the onions as they cook, or heavily salting them to draw out the moisture quickly and both will give you passable onions in about half the time, but for that intense deep sweet earthy flavor that really sings, nothing is better than low heat and time.
The method here is one that my food writing mentor and very opinionated friend, Jim Villas enlightened me on. Jim, a native of Charlotte, recently died in New York at the age of 80. He was one of the best food writers of the last several decades. I got to know him while working on the photography for his “My Mother’s Southern Kitchen” series, some of the most fun I ever had doing something called work.
His books “Pig: King of the Southern Table” and “The Glory of Southern Cooking” are well worth your time.
So, Jim suggested cooking the onions over medium-high heat until they took on some color, then adding a bit of water, lowering the heat, and cooking until the onions become a darkish golden brown. The water is your fudge factor to prevent the onions from burning. The method works great, and the result is deep swee- savory goodness. From this point, you can use them however you wish.
My wish was to create an onion dip that blows away any store-bought dip or one that you make with a soup packet. I worked out this recipe because I wanted clean intense onion flavor without any artificial undertones. Note that the recipe calls for granulated garlic powder, which gives a deeper flavor than garlic powder. Note, this is NOT garlic salt. I also used a toasted onion powder found in the fancier spice section, which again adds depth and earthiness. Notice there is no salt in the recipe, but feel free to add some if you like.
If you can, make this dip the day before. It brightens overnight.
So, I think I hit both Labor Day and Football season and a dip that’s really good for any reason.
Serve with: Of course, potato chips, but it’s great over a baked potato, and stirred into a pot of grits is unbelievable.
To drink: For me, a little bourbon and ginger ale, but the dip goes with about any beverage.
Fred’s Caramelized Onion Dip
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large Vidalia onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup water
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon toasted onion powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
Chips, for serving
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the water and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to low and cook until the onions are dark golden brown, at least another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the pan ever looks too dry, add a tablespoon of water.
Let cool completely.
Combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, Worcestershire, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper in a medium bowl. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer.
Stir in the reserved onions and the chives. Chill until serving time. It’s best made the day before and lasts about a week.
Yield: 6-8 servings