Each time I write about food, I think of him. He is responsible for what I do, as much as Petey and The Kid, any editor, supportive family member or friend, or adoring fan (and let me tell you, Gentle Reader, there are tens of them out there—well, maybe ten…including the ones I pay).
He had such an unintended influence on my life, and I don’t even know his name.Many years ago, before food blogs, the explosion of food writing, and even mass usage of the interwebs, I read a column in my local newspaper. It was about onions.
But it was more than just a recipe, or a spread in a magazine. It was a story. A story that was a glimpse into the life of the writer. He was an empty nester; his daughter was away at college.The story began with his daughter coming home on a break. And she immediately dove into the refrigerator. She pulled out a jar of this dark brown marmalade-like substance that was obviously homemade. It intrigued, but was completely unknown.When she asked him, he informed her it was caramelized onion jam. That it was incredibly easy but took hours to prepare. That it might resemble run of the mill fried onions but it was so, so much more.
Then, in the column he offered the recipe. I’ve made it many times over the years. And, in the ensuing decades, I’ve tweaked the recipe according to my tastes and made it my own.
Amended Onion Jam
5 pounds yellow onions
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon salt + more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper + more to taste
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup dry Marsala winePeel the onions, cut them in half and slice into ¼ inch half-moons. Put them all into large, heavy Dutch oven with tightly fitted lid. Pour in oil. Add salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir together to coat. Place on stove and turn to 2-3 or medium-low. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. You’re looking to get all the water out of the onions. Uncover, give it a stir, and take a look. If it’s not ready, recover and cook more, checking every 10 minutes or so.When the onions are wilted-looking, and swimming in an inch or two of liquid, uncover.
Continue to cook, stirring every 15-20 minutes. Keep cooking until they are the color of an untoasted pecan, with flecks or caramel (2-3 hours). At this stage the onions will be cooked down to two cups or less.Turn burner up to just over medium (6-ish). Let the pan heat up, then pour in the Marsala. Scrape up browned bits on the pan bottom and cook wine is gone and the jam is a nice deep caramel color. Taste and re-season, if necessary.
Store onions in airtight container in fridge for 1 week or freeze for 2 months.The jam is really good on burgers and grilled cheese. Use as a flavoring in mayo, humus, or salad dressing. Replace regular onions in smothered pork chops or country-style steak. Can you say, French Onion Soup? And I love it on pizza, and a million other things.One word of caution: a little goes a very long way, don’t go overboard. And this is coming from someone who loves onions. It is possible to use too much—so start light, taste, and add more if needed.
Not only did the unknown food writer give me this wonderful, useful recipe, he gave me a whole new way to think about writing and a second act career.
So, thank you Mr. Jam Man. Wherever you are!Thanks for your time.