- 1 Medium or Large Onion
- Cutting Board
- Chef’s Knife
- Medium or Large Sauté Pan or Skillet
- Utility Tongs
An Onion Brûlée, like a Bouquet Garni (covered in the Beginner Level), or a Sachet d’Epices (covered in the next Exercise), is an enhancement, not a mandatory step, used to add flavor and improve the appearance of a Stock. Typically, a single enhancement, not two or more, is used for any given stock.
The subject of this exercise is Onion Brûlée, also spelled Onion Brûlé, which is principally used as a nice chef’s trick to help darken the color of a liquid. It will add some flavor as well, but in the chefs’ repertoire it is better known for adding rich color.
Before you write-off Onion Brûlée as mere window dressing, remember from the How We Taste Exercise that “your eyes feast on your food long before the ingredients reach your mouth.” How food looks influences the entire dining experience; it even affects how the food tastes and is a critical component of Presentation and Flair, the 4th of Smart Kitchen’s 4 Levers of Cooking.™
Onion Brûlée can be used to make Brown Stocks, Consommés, Soups or Sauces look richer, with inexpensive Onions which improves Costing and Yield, without adding additional, relatively more costly, bones to the Simmering Stock.
Basically, the French word brûlée means “burned.” There are various wrinkles to the definition, but they all have to do with burning. In the food world, we most often hear brûlée in connection with Crème Brûlée, a rich custard dessert. (Surprisingly, Crème Brûlée did not originate in France. See the Resource section for details.) The last step in making a Crème Brûlée consists of sprinkling the custard with Sugar, then Caramelizing(“browning” or “scorching”) the sugar to form a crisp browned layer on top of the pudding—hence, the brûlée part of its name.
Essentially Onion Brûlée is an Onion burnt, or blackened on one side before being used as an enhancement for Stocks, Soups, etc. When the natural sugars in an Onion are exposed to High Heat, they turn brown and Caramelize; and they will blacken if exposed to the heat long enough. Longer exposure and a blackened color is what we are aiming for with an Onion Brûlée because the Onion needs to be very dark to positively impact the color of the liquid. If the Onion were to be Caramelized only until it was brown, it would not darken the liquid to the same extent.
Making an Onion Brûlée is not difficult. The only ingredient is a medium or large Onion (either Red, Yellow, White). Unlike other times we heat/cook an Onion, no Fat will be used in an Onion Brûlée. For equipment, you will need a Cutting Board, Chef’s Knife, Sauté Pan or Skillet, and Utility Tongs.
To make the Onion Brûlée, first place your Skillet or Sauté Pan on High Heat. The Onion is left whole, unpeeled and untrimmed. As shown in the Instructional Video, halve the Onion horizontally. Place both halves cut side down in the heated pan. The Onion should be blackened on the cut side after about 10 minutes. You may wish to check the color near the 10-minute mark by tipping or lifting it with your Tongs to peek.
Add the blackened Onion to your Stock, Soup, etc. Don’t worry about the root or skin, it will all be strained-out or fished-out before service. Only the color and a bit of flavor will remain.
Teaching Chef notes that he would use the charred Onion in a ratio of about one medium or large Onion for each gallon of liquid he is trying to darken, and he will make and use more Onion Brûlée if he’s making a larger amount of Stock or Consomme.