I can’t believe it. This blog is well into its second year, and I haven’t written about onion jam yet.
This is the secret recipe I keep in my (metaphorical) back pocket. It’s my chosen way of winning friends and influencing people. I think I’ve made it for every shindig I’ve hosted for the past two years. My friend Anthony is so smitten with it that he brings a bag of onions every time I invite him to a party.
Onion jam is, well, my jam.
Back when I first moved home from college, the deYoung Museum in San Francisco was hosting the traveling King Tut exhibit. Kate and I bought tickets for a Friday evening toward the end of summer, and discovered that on Friday evenings toward the end of summer, the museum also has live jazz performances and a special tasting menu in the cafe.
Budget-conscious grads that we were, we decided to share three of the “small plates,” two of which were very tasty and I don’t remember at all. The third arrived at our table, artfully (ha) arranged on a fancy white platter: a few slices of toasted French bread, a hunk of Brie, and a dollop of something the menu called “onion goo.” We put the Brie on the bread, the “goo” on the Brie, and bit.
I don’t want to say that the heavens opened up and angels sang, but that’s very nearly what happened. It was a stunning mouthful: the “goo,” obviously a jam of some sort, had a sweet-tangy pungency that melded seamlessly with the salty, fatty cheese and the crisp bread. We left the museum still talking about it; over the next few months, I developed a quiet obsession. I found a recipe to riff on, did a little tinkering, and came up with a winner.
To make onion jam, I slice a couple of sweet onions paper-thin, then cook them in a little olive oil until they give up their juices and collapse into a pile of gooey blond strands. Then I stir in orange zest, thyme, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, and simmer until the whole mess is rich and thick and unctuous. Sounds crazy, tastes divine.
If you ever thought a slice of gooey Brie on crusty sourdough bread couldn’t possibly be improved, try a dollop of warm onion jam on top. It melts the Brie just slightly, then oozes thick sweet-tart juices into the bubbly crannies of the bread. Take a bite, and the silky-soft onions practically melt between your teeth.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner; this would be a great addition to a romantic lunch of bread and cheese and wine. But there’s no need to stop there. Use onion jam as a pizza sauce or a flatbread topping; spoon it into the center of a galette; sandwich it with Gruyere for a killer grilled cheese; put it in the center of an omelet; dollop it on top of a piece of meat; or use it in place of the usual caramelized onions on your burger.
Oversight corrected. I feel so much better now.
Onion Jam (makes about 2 cups)
Adapted liberally from Healthy. Delicious.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 sweet yellow onions (like Vidalia or Walla Walla), sliced as thin as humanly possible
Salt to taste
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar (or use all balsamic)
Scant 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp orange zest
Leaves from 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and a large pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes; the onions will give up a lot of liquid, then become soft and squidgy. When almost all the liquid has boiled away and the onions are a pale blond color, add balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, orange zest (if using) and thyme (if using). Return to a boil and continue to cook for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture has reduced and thickened to a jam-like consistency. Taste and adjust the salt, if necessary. Serve warm with bread and cheese, or at room temperature with almost anything else.