What I love so much about the history of food as we understand it, is that we don’t really understand it at all. We have records and writings, pictures and paintings, receipts and recipes, but there are so many things about food and cooking that we just cannot know.
I’ve been making Tracklements’ Caramelised Red Onion Relish this week, and it got me to thinking about the first time someone caramelised onions. Was it on purpose? Or were they distracted by something and turned around to discover that they had brown, crispy, sweet, tangy onions as opposed to the lightly sweated ones they had been aiming for?
This much we do know. To make this Caramelised Red Onion Relish, (which I have nabbed the recipe for this week) Tracklements discovered that sweating the onions in oil during the first stage made for an unappealing, greasy, relish. So they set to sweating their onions without oil – without anything in fact. They do this in something called a ‘steam jacketed pan’ which provides heat all over, rather than just from below as with a normal saucepan.
At home, sweating the onions in a saucepan without any oil or indeed anything else, felt very strange. I kept wondering if the onions were going to burn or indeed, what was going to happen to them? To manage this sweating you have to keep them on a very low heat, and keep going for as long as you can – 20 minutes at the least, probably more like 30 minutes.
I gave up too early as I was worried about them burning, and I think it meant that my onions didn’t caramelise as much as they could have done at the next stage when sugar was added. My relish is tasty, but I don’t think it is as tasty as the Tracklements offering, and it is not as dark. This is what my onions look like after the initial sweating – they should have been much more colourless.
According to The Tracklementalist, a good onion relish should not repeat on you – that is, it shouldn’t cause you to burp, which can be what onions do to some people. They have worked hard at making sure that their relishes do not do this, it is yet to be proved whether my attempt at their recipe can make the same claim!
What would I eat this relish with? It screams out to be spooned into a baguette already lined with flash cooked steak strips. I can imagine it on top of a pizza, with a good quality goats cheese melted on top and a few wisps of wild rocket to garnish. Tracklements have a delicious recipe for a quiche made using it at http://www.tracklements.co.uk/recipes/cheese_onion_tart_with_caramelised_red_onion_relish/
The relish is a dark, purply brown, slippery, sweet affair with a wonderful depth of flavour that would be lovely with cheese. I can’t wait to get started on eating mine, with or without burps!
Tracklements’ Caramelised Red Onion Relish (makes 6 small jars or 3 jars)
2.5kg red onions (approx 12)
125g Raw Cane Sugar
375g Muscovado sugar
550ml Cider Vinegar (you could substitute 50ml of this with balsamic vinegar which will give the relish a richer, sweeter taste)
A pinch of ground black pepper
- Slice the onions and put then in a large pan. Put the pan on the heat and gently sweat the onions over a low to medium heat until they are soft and translucent. This is to remove as much liquid as possible.
- Add the raw cane sugar and stir for another 10-15 minutes being careful not to let the sugar catch on the bottom of the pan. Now the onions will caramelise.
- Add the muscovado sugar and the vinegar and continue stirring whilst bringing to the boil.
- Finally add the salt and pepper and cook until thick and jammy – mine took about 10 minutes.