Who doesn’t love a sweet tooth for a sweet onion every now and then? That thick slice of Rockies purple red onion on a burger at Coors Field? Candies that are slowly and forever cooked into a jam-like confit, sweeter than any ordinary onions could make?
It’s almost impossible to think of a cuisine anywhere that doesn’t use onions, but sweet onions are special. (They are also a small percentage of the world’s crop.) Lots of candy is sold in Colorado, such as Walla Walla in Washington, Maui in Hawaii, those Rockies-purple red Bermuda, or even Colorado Sweet in our own state, which has been here for most years. available from August to October.
But nearly half of all the sweet onions chefs buy in the United States come from Vidalia, Georgia, and bear that name. Discovered accidentally (and fortunately) in the 1930s during the Great Depression, a Vidalia has a sugar content of a whopping 12 percent versus a normal onion of 5 percent.
Also, the low sulfur content of the soil around the town of Vidalia contributes to the Vidalia’s low “cry quotient”. (Onions make you cry because of their natural sulfur compounds that irritate our eyes.)
Two fun facts about Vidalias: They are the official state vegetable of Georgia, and their mascot’s nickname is “Yumion.”
The recipes here are three very different ways to eat Vidalias (or other sweet onions you could use instead).
One is a baked Vidalia recipe 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’s an amazingly delicious rendering and tastes like French onion soup in a block.
Another is from a regional cookbook with recipes from around the country; you may eat the Vidalia raw but slightly pickled. And the third recipe is from my favorite home French cooking website, marmiton.org. I translated for you a simple onion confit made with sweet onions. Enjoy it alongside a charcuterie, as a topping for something grilled or on a spoon as is.
It’s so sweet.
Fried Vidalia Onion
The recipe is for the onion called “Vidalia”, from the state of Georgia. Of course, you can also use other sweet onions, such as a Washington State Walla Walla or, to keep it real, a Colorado Sweet. Makes 1 but is easy to multiply. A whole onion is a suitable serving for 1 person, especially if it is accompanied by other foods to round out the service.
1 Vidalia onion
1 vegetable, chicken or beef stock cube or 3/4 teaspoon the same in paste form
1-2 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel the onion, leaving the carrot intact. If the onion is level, leave it alone. If not, cut a thin slice off the root to get 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 stock cube (or the pasta equivalent) into the hole.
Fill the rest of the hole with butter, about 1-2 tbsp. Season with pepper. Place the stuffed onion on a sheet of foil large enough to enclose it. Wrap the onion in foil, with the edges coming up in the center. Twist the foil together to seal 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 soft. Serve hot. (Baking times remain the same for multiple onions.)
Vidalia Onion-cucumber salad
From Gabrielle Langholtz, editor, “America: The Cookbook” (Phaidon 2017). Serves 6-8.
4 cucumbers, peeled and cut into inch thick slices
1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
½ cup distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
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, 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 cool completely, about 6 hours. Serve in the pickling liquid with a slotted spoon.
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 old balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon cane sugar
Place a large, heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Put 4 tablespoons of oil in the pan and, when it shimmers a little, add all the onions and stir to coat them with oil. Sprinkle with salt.
Brown the onions over medium to medium heat, taking care not to burn them, just turning them golden brown, somewhere between 40-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If some burning occurs, extinguish the burn with a splash of water, not oil.) When the onions are very soft and deeply golden, add the vinegar and stir. Sprinkle the sugar over it. Cook over medium or medium heat for another 15 minutes, stirring at least twice.
Notes: You can cover the cooking onions for part of the time and lower the heat during that time. You can use other vinegars, such as apple cider vinegar, if you don’t want the duck confit as dark. You can 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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