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These onions make me cry

July 21, 2009

But only while I’m cutting them.  Luckily, that part is quick and easy.

Almost like a pot o' gold

Almost like a pot o' gold

So, I’m not the model carnivore.  Sure, I eat everything (well, almost) under the sun, including all types of meat, but I don’t prefer it.  When taken to an upscale restaurant, if I happen to order red meat, it will most certainly be the result of my hankering for the sides that come with it.  The fried parsnips and chanterelle demi-glace sharing a plate with garlic buttermilk mashed.  The meat is truly secondary.

However, lately I find myself hankering for Ina Garten’s Niman Ranch burgers.  They are so, so easy to put together, it’s nearly criminal to call it a recipe.  (I’ll point the finger at the Contessa on this one.)  What keeps me coming back, though, is the addition of caramelized onions.

This recipe, also insanely easy, results in the perfect topping for any burger, or possibly even crostini or, hell, a big fat spoon.  It takes a little more time than a raw onion on a burger might, but the trade-off is a spectacular summer dinner highlight that just might make you cry.

First the recipe for the onions, and below you’ll find the recipe for the burgers.  If you get that far.

Caramelized Onions:


  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced in half-rounds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large shallow pot, add the onions and thyme, and toss with the oil. Place the lid on top and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes to sweat the onions.

Sweating the onions

Sweating the onions

Remove the lid and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes, until the onions are caramelized and golden brown. If the onions are cooking too fast, lower the heat. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes, scraping the brown bits from the pan. Season to taste (they should be very highly seasoned).

after deglazing the pan

after deglazing the pan

Yield: 6 servings

Notes:  For just two of us, I halve this recipe.  I have trouble finding (and then affording) sherry wine vinegar (possibly because I have only found it at Whole Foods), so I swap apple cider vinegar, and it tastes phenomenal.  I’m sure other vinegars would also be suitable, so have at it!   Yes, use fresh thyme leaves, please.  Find someone who’s growing some and steal if you must.

And now for some meat.

Ina Garten’s Niman Ranch Burgers 

  • 2 pounds ground Niman Ranch beef or other grass-fed premium beef (80 percent lean and 20 percent fat)
  • 1 tablespoon good Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra for brushing the grill
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 sandwich-size English muffins, halved
  • Good mayonnaise
  • Caramelized Onions, recipe follows


Build a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill.

Place the ground beef in a large bowl and add the mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix gently with a fork to combine, taking care not to compress the ingredients. Shape the meat into 6 (3 1/2-inch) patties of equal size and thickness.

When the grill is medium-hot, brush the grill grate with oil to keep the burgers from sticking. Place the burgers on the grill and cook for 4 minutes. Using a big spatula, turn the burgers and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until medium-rare or more, or cook longer if you prefer hamburgers more well done.

Meanwhile, break apart the English muffins and toast the 6 halves cut side down on the grill. Spread each half with mayonnaise and top with a burger and then with a heaping tablespoon of caramelized onions. Serve hot.

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