Written by Lee Wyatt (last updated June 15, 2020)
In the simplest of terms, when you are caramelizing garlic, onions, shallots, or other vegetables, all you are doing is cooking them so that they brown deeply. This is easy to do, and results in vegetables that have a sweet flavor, and a fairly dark color that is actually reminiscent of caramel. The reason for this is that you are actually turning the sugars that are in the vegetables into caramel, which is why the process is called caramelizing. There are a few elements that you will need to use when you begin caramelizing anything.
The first of these elements are vegetables that have a fairly high sugar content. Some examples of these vegetables are things like garlic, shallots, carrots, certain parts of the leek, and some onions. I say some onions, because green onions simply won't work due to having too much of a water content. It is for this reason that celery will not caramelize on its own either.
The next element that you will need to use is oil or butter. You can use most kinds of oils, and in fact I cannot think of any oil that you cannot use. However, you want to be careful when you are using butter. You do not want to use whole butter when caramelizing anything. The reason for this is that the solids in whole butter have a tendency to burn when heated up. Instead, you should use clarified butter, which will melt but not burn as easily.
The third element that you will need to use is a nice, heavy duty frying pan. Preferably you will want to use one that is non-stick, but any frying pan will do. The reason you want to use a non-stick one is that as the vegetables get heated up they will begin to get...well, sticky. This can lead to burning if you are not careful. By using a non-stick pan you can actually leave the stove for a minute or two if something comes up. Otherwise, you will need to stick right by the pan, stirring constantly to ensure that nothing sticks or burns.
Finally, the last thing that you will need is a stove that can get nice and hot. You will want a stove that can reach at least 310 degrees Fahrenheit in order to begin the caramelizing process. This shouldn't be too much of a problem though, since most standard stoves will easily reach this temperature. However, this means that you shouldn't try this technique on something like a hot plate.
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