Who doesn’t get a sweet tooth, at least once in awhile, for a sweet onion? That thick slice of Rockies-purple red onion on a burger at Coors Field? Sweets cooked slowly and forever into a jam-like confit, sweeter than any that regular onions could make?
It’s well-nigh impossible to think of a cuisine anywhere that doesn’t use onions, but sweet onions are special. (They also are a wee percentage of the world crop.) Many sweets sell in Colorado, such as Washington’s Walla Walla, Hawaii’s Maui, that Rockies-purple Red Bermuda or even our own state’s Colorado Sweet, available here most years August through October.
But close to half of all the sweet onions that cooks buy in the United States come from Vidalia, Ga., and carry that name. Discovered accidentally (and felicitously) in the 1930s during the Great Depression, a Vidalia sports a whopping 12 percent sugar content versus a normal onion’s 5 percent.
Too, the low sulfur content of the soil around the town of Vidalia contributes to the Vidalia’s low “cry quotient.” (Onions make you tear up due to their native sulfur compounds that irritate our eyes.)
Two neat factoids about Vidalias: They are the official state vegetable of Georgia and the nickname of their mascot is “Yumion.”
The recipes here are three very different turns on eating Vidalias (or other sweet onions that you might use in place of them).
One is a baked Vidalia recipe that I learned from a close Denver friend who once did consulting work in Georgia and brought this recipe back as her “favorite way to eat an onion.” It is a terrifically delicious rendering and tastes like French onion soup in a block.
Another is from a regional cookbook celebrating recipes from around our country; you get to eat the Vidalia raw but slightly pickled. And the third recipe is from my favorite website for French home cooking, marmiton.org. I translated for you a simple onion confit made with sweet onions. Enjoy it to the side of some charcuterie, as a topping for something grilled, or off a spoon just as is.
It’s that sweet.
Baked Vidalia Onion
The recipe is for the onion called “Vidalia,” from the state of Georgia. You may use other sweet onions, of course, such as a Washington State Walla Walla or, to keep it real, a Colorado Sweet. Makes 1 but is easily multiplied. A whole onion is a suitable serving for 1 person, especially if accompanied by other foods to round out the service.
1 Vidalia onion
1 vegetable, chicken, or beef bouillon cube or 3/4 teaspoon of the same in paste form
1–2 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel the onion, leaving the root intact. If the onion sits level, leave it alone. If not, cut a thin slice off the root to create a flat bottom. Use a paring knife to cut a wide, 1-inch deep cone into the top of the onion. Insert a vegetable, chicken or beef bouillon cube (or the equivalent in paste form) into the hole.
Fill the rest of the hole with butter, about 1-2 tablespoons. Season with pepper. Place the filled onion on a sheet of foil large enough to encase it. Wrap the onion in foil, bringing the edges up in the center. Twist the foil together to seal in the onion (it will resemble a giant Hershey’s Kiss).
Place the foil-wrapped onion on a baking sheet. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the onion is tender. Serve warm. (Baking times remain the same for multiple onions.)
Vidalia Onion and Cucumber Salad
From Gabrielle Langholtz, editor, “America: The Cookbook” (Phaidon 2017). Serves 6-8.
4 cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½-inch thick slices
1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch wide slices
½ cup distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the cucumber and onion slices in a large heatproof bowl.
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic and 1/2 cup water. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, just to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the cucumbers and onions, add the pepper and mix gently to coat. Cover tightly and refrigerate to chill completely, about 6 hours. Serve in the pickling liquid with a slotted spoon.
Sweet Onion Confit
Translated from marmiton.org. Makes from 2-3 cups.
1 pound sweet onions (about 2 large or 3 medium), peeled and thinly sliced along the “poles”
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon cane sugar
Over medium-high heat place a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Place 4 tablespoons oil into the pot and, when it slightly shimmers, add all the onions, stirring them to coat with oil. Sprinkle with salt.
Brown the onions over medium to medium-high heat, making sure they don’t burn but merely become more and more golden brown, anywhere from 40-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If some burning occurs, deglaze the burn with a splash of water, not oil.) When the onions are very soft and deeply golden brown, add the vinegar and stir in. Sprinkle on the sugar. Cook over medium or medium-low heat for an additional 15 minutes, stirring at least twice.
Notes: You may cover the cooking onions for part of the time, lowering the heat during that period. You may use other sorts of vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar, if you do not wish the confit as dark. You may also add other flavorings such as 1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard, or 1 tablespoon honey, or 1/4 cup dry red wine or port.
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