Caramelizing onions takes a higher heat than sweating onions. You would caramilize onions to bring out the sweetness - I just love them. You have to be patient.
Let your butter or whatever fat you are using heat up. Once the fat is hot add your sliced onions. I usually add salt and pepper but I have added brown sugar and some vinegar also when I used them as a topping on baked focaccia.
Let your onions cook and brown - stirring to brown all sides. If they seem to be browning too fast just turn the heat down a tad. They are GREAT over sauteed chicken or a steak. Hope this helps answer your question.
I make mine just like that.. with the brown sugar. If I'm serving them with beef I'll add a small amout of beef boullion too. If I weren't making cabbage tonight I'd make onions, now that you have me thinking about them. Yummy!
Make sure that you salt the onions as soon as you add them to the pan so that they release their liquid, and can caramelize faster. If done correctly, you don't even need too add any additional sugar unless you want the onions to be sweeter
I make fried crisp carmalized onions and add them to top plain rice or as a garnish to anything my heart desires (soups, pilafs, thai inspired dishes or I puree them with yogurt and spices for an instant base for a curry or lamb marinade). They are really sweet and crisp.
To do this I fill a fry pan with good amount of oil. I slice 10 or so onions thinly. Once the oil is hot, I add the sliced onions with a good couple of pinches of salt. I then let the onions cook in the fat for a while until they get nice and golden. From this point on you cannot leave them unattended. They go from golden to burnt in no time.
Once they are light golden, continue to stir them and then when they get a tiny bit darker (deeper gold). Shut the heat, drain them with a nice strainer spoon and then place them on paper towels. Once the oil is absorbed and as they cool they get crispier. You can then use them immediately as a garnish or store them in an airtight container in a cool dry place and they will stay for a long time.
The caramalized version is similar to this but only differs in that not a lot of oil is used (I also like to use butter as Jennyema suggested when I just want to prepare caramalized onions) and they are more mushier than the crisp version. Both versions are sweet and concentrated.
When I caramelize onions, I cut my onions along the grain, so I end up with crescents and half moons, not rings. I also do this for my French onion soup. Caramelized onion crescents look much more elegant on the dish than limp onion rings, and they are definitely easier to eat. The limp onion rings tend to dangle awkwardly from the spoon or fork, or heaven forbid, the mouth.
Here's the Martha method. I also like cutting them in wedges & adding them to mashed potatoes. One of my fav comfort food recipes is a carrot/potato whip -- mashed potatoes & mashed carrots combined & the caramelized onions mixed in & seasoned to taste. Also like them on liver.
Makes about 1 cup
These browned, sweet onions make a wonderful topping for pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and grilled meats.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)
Heat butter and oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions, and cook until they begin to soften, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add sugar, salt, and pepper; raise heat slightly, and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally, 30 to 35 minutes. Stir in thyme, if using, and serve warm.