I have a love-hate relationship with spring. While I am always excited to shed layers of coats and hats - there is always disappointment with early spring produce. There is nothing to eat that really screams SPRING!
I call March, April and early May the “hungry” months. Just as we are getting outside and looking to lighten up our menus with bright springy flavors, Mother Nature is holding out on us. It is not until late May that flavors of the season start appearing in the markets. There is one exception: Spring Onions.
What Are Spring Onions?
I know this doesn’t sound exciting but it really is. Spring onions are immature bulb onions that have not fully developed. They are smaller than the usual yellow, Spanish or white onions. They are also sweeter than their mature counterparts with a fresh, soft onion-garlic quality. Just using these sweet members of the allium family makes recipes sprightly and brighter in flavor.
Finding & Using Spring Onions
Typically harvested by farmers to thin their rows of onions, spring onions can be found in farmers markets, gourmet markets and on savvy restaurant menus. The varietals are white, red and some heirloom types. I love using them to make soups, chutneys and grilling them as a simple side to my steaks and poultry.
Spring Onions have the bonus of not having the annoying papery skin to peel, Just slice off the green stems and slice or dice the bulbs. Use the green tops as garnish.
Technique: Caramelized Spring Onions
So many recipes call for caramelized onions including simple grilled steaks, burgers and more complex recipes such as soups, stews and sauces. While caramelized onions are a commonly called for ingredient, the technique seems baffling for many home cooks. This technique will work for any onion but is especially delicious with spring onions as they are as sweet as candy when prepared this way.
You will need a heavy-bottomed sauté pan. This is not the moment to pull out aluminum cook ware. Pull out the good stuff. The heat will be evenly distributed and your onions will be less likely to burn. You can also control the heat on a heavy bottomed pan easier than on a thin aluminum pan.
You need neutrally flavored oil. I like canola oil or olive oil. I do not pull out my expensive extra virgin olive oil or my delicate nut oils for this. I need something that is going to stand up to serious heat.
You will also need a silicone spatula or tongs. Whichever works for you-just something to pull the onions out of the pan. Oh yeah, you need kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Here we go:
- Cut the onion in half lengthwise or flower end to root (not horizontally). Slice the onion with a sharp knife into thin strings.
- Heat the sauté pan over high heat until it is very hot. Add a thin coating of oil to the pan. The oil should be hot before adding the onions. To test this: see if the oil shimmers when added to the pan.
- Add a small handful of onions to the pan. Do not add too much. If you do, the hot pan will cool down too much and the onions will just steam. You only want to add enough onions to cover the bottom of the pan.
- Now leave the pan alone for a few minutes. Do not start stirring yet. You want the heat to build up on the onions and start caramelization of the natural sugars. When the onions start to brown, stir or flip them to brown the other side. Salt and pepper each batch while they are cooking.
- The onions are caramelized when they are dark brown, not black! They should still hold their shape and be very fragrant. Remove the onions and repeat with more onions until they are all caramelized.
The good news is that caramelized onions can be stored, covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Happy spring cooking!
Spring Onion Recipes
- LAURA FRANKEL is the former chef and founder of the Shallots restaurants. Frankel has training and extensive experience in both savory and pastry kitchens. After Frankel had a family and began maintaining a kosher home she found that there was nowhere in Chicago serving the quality of food that she knew she could offer. She opened her first restaurant in 1999 offering kosher fine dining with a produce-driven menu. Frankel opened Shallots NY in 2000 in midtown Manhattan.