Do you remember those tests in elementary school when the teacher would say to read through the whole problem before you start to answer? And it would end up being some trick and it was easy for the teacher to see who followed the directions? Funny, I loved those back then because I was great at following directions. And yet, (too) many years later, I rarely follow directions. And I don’t always read through a recipe before deciding (and starting) to make it.
Which is bad. Very bad. I learned this lesson the hard way not too long ago when making the first batch of balsamic onion jam.
But let me start from the beginning. A local company, Perl Catering, has this wonderful balsamic onion marmalade (for non-locals, you can buy it in their Etsy store). I love this stuff. And I looked all over town for it just after Christmas to take to my sister-in-law for a hostess gift. But it was sold out. Everywhere. So I bought her something else and decided to make it myself.
I found this recipe, noted that I had everything I needed on hand, skimmed the instructions a bit and set about making it. And two and a half hours later, I had a really fantastic balsamic onion jam. That’s right–two and a half hours. I was exhausted. I was unamused. I was grumpy. Luckily, this stuff was truly delicious, so it was not time spent in vain.
But if I’d read more comprehensively, I would have noted a) the total amount of time and b) really, this was just caramelizing onions and then adding balsamic vinegar and sugar until it becomes a jam. And there are easier and faster ways to caramelize onions. The first step of which is not to have four onions in one skillet! Unless it is a giant electric skillet, which I do not have. Oh man, all the stirring and the waiting. Also, my method of caramelization cooks down the water in the onions before adding oil, which speeds things up.
But wait! That’s not all! Also, after two and a half hours, I got about 8, maybe 10 ounces of jam. A paltry amount. Though, to be fair, it was received by the hostess with glee as I had just enough left over from filling a small jar for her to serve it with dinner that night to the delight of all the guests. It really is that good. So, if you would like to have some for yourself, I present to you three options.
1. Make the balsamic onion jam according to this recipe. Get out your cooking Crocs and something with which to entertain yourself (hey, there’s a new cookbook from Love and Olive Oil! ETA: oops, it’s not out yet. Again, I did not read for comprehension. But I have previewed it and it is awesome.). You will love this jam.
2. Make this recipe instead, which is a variation:
Balsamic Onion Jam
yield 4-6 ounces
2 large onions, chopped into consistently-sized slices about 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons sugar*
1 tablespoon molasses (or an additional tablespoon of sugar)*
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
(* or use 5-6 tablespoons brown sugar)
Add the onions to your largest skillet and set heat to medium. Stir occasionally while the water from the onions cooks off. Reduce the heat to medium low and add one tablespoon of oil. Stir occasionally. When the onions become transluscent and soft, add another tablespoon of oil and cook (still stirring occasionally) until the onions are a a medium brown color (add more oil if the onions dry out a bit but haven’t softened/browned completely). This will take 20-30 minutes (or a bit longer). Reduce the heat to low and add the sugar, molasses, vinegar and salt and cook until thickened to a jam-like texture. Taste and add more sugar, vinegar, and/or salt as necessary. It should be equal parts sweet and savory.
This entire process will take about an hour to an hour and a half.
3. Pay your $5 for a jar of balsamic onion marmalade from Perl Catering (available directly from them online or at the Farmer’s Market, at Lazzaroli’s and at the Turnip Truck). Frankly, this is your best option. The price is hardly more than the cost of ingredients, not to mention your time. And it’s very, very good. Spread it on some bread. Maybe have it with a little brie. Eat it straight from the jar. It’s really that good.
No, really. Just buy it. That’s what I will do from now on. I’ve confronted the challenge and won, albeit after a long while. So I can claim victory and move on. And tell you not to waste your time.
And now you have reached the end of this post. Turn your paper over and wait for your gold star.