Onion Marmalade

A few years ago I tasted my first onion marmalade twice in a matter of days.

The first time was at Ariel’s, a restaurant along the shore of the lake in Brookfield, Vermont. It’s worth a trip from anywhere you are. Get in the car and head right to Ariel’s.

We were there to celebrate our anniversary on a warm early September evening. I ordered a goat cheese tart for an appetizer. If there is a goat cheese tart on a menu, I will order it. And this particular tart came with onion marmalade on the side. The tart was delicious, but the onion marmalade stepped it up by several notches to be truly sublime. My groans of pleasure probably drew attention to our table, so I stopped short of licking the plate.

A few days later I was in Paris. It was the day of our arrival, and we (my colleague Laurie and I) spent it walking part of the exposition Maison et Objet. We were keeping ourselves upright by meeting friends for dinner. We met them at the Caspari shop on rue Jacob. Lisa and Elizabeth (and Elizabeth’s dog, Polo) met us with some appetizers in the shop before we strolled a few streets over to dinner at Le Timbre. Our appetizers arrived, and among our choices was a plate with onion marmalade. It was similar to what I’d eaten in Vermont. Just as delicious and memorable. Polo sat obediently under the table for the meal. Only I discovered—part way through—that he was slightly mischievous and had eaten a hole in the center of the napkin on my lap! Maybe he was trying to get to my plate.

Le Timbre’s chef, Christopher Wright, came to our table and I asked him about the marmalade. “Easy,” he proclaimed. “It is just onions and sugar. Seven parts onions to one part sugar.” This is what I think he said. I think he mentioned something about putting it all on the big restaurant grill and cooking the tar out of it (not his exact words). But I was jetlagged. I’d had some wine. I was under the continual influence of delicious sugary onion spread. A dog had eaten my napkin.

When I got home a few weeks later I made my first batch. I did the 7 parts to 1 part ratio and cooked it for a very long time. Adding the sugar made it very wet. I ended up splitting the batch between two pans to get it to all cook down and caramelize. I was rather hot and onion-steam-coated when it was all over, but I did get something marmalade-like and very delicious. It seemed a little sweeter than I remembered. But I served it at a party with goat cheese and baguette and my friends licked the jar clean.

Since then I have made many batches, refining the amount of sugar. (I have settled on 12 parts onion to 1 part sugar.) I tried a little olive oil with the onions in one batch (not needed). I tried the onions in long slices and found they were too long and stringy to easily pull from the jar with a knife. So dicing became the favorite. Here is the final recipe of all my experimenting.

If a day is not too hot, and you have 90 minutes free for cooking, then you have the perfect conditions for making this recipe. Your friends will thank you. It is delicious with goat cheese tart. Or on a baguette with fresh Chèvre. Or as a sandwich topping. Or right off the spoon. Warning: your kitchen will be quite onion-scented when you are finished, but don’t let that stop you. (Just open the windows.) Supposedly it lasts two weeks in the fridge, but our jar is always empty within a day or two.

Onion Marmalade

12 cups onions, coarsely chopped (about 6 large onions)
Onion note: I have used Spanish, Yellow and Vidalia onions, and once I made it with half yellow and half red onions. All worked well.
1 c. sugar
12 inch cast iron skillet

1. Fill the skillet with the chopped onions. The onions will fill the skillet completely and be slightly higher than the top edge of the pan. On medium heat start cooking the onions, turning them and stirring so they begin to release moisture and not brown. As the pan heats up you can lower the temperature to medium low.

2. At 10 minutes of cooking the onions have begun to soften and sweat, but not brown. Some onion clumps are still intact.

{From this point on you can stir occasionally.}

3. At 15 minutes the onions are translucent and there is a little bit of liquid bubbling. The onions are reduced to below the lip of the pan.

4. At 25 minutes add 1 c. sugar and stir in. It will liquify and make the onions look very glossy and wet. If you haven’t already, reduce heat to medium low.

{From this point you can stir every 5-10 minutes.}

5. At 30 minutes the sugar is all blended and the liquid is fully bubbling. The onions are reduced to half the height of the pan.

6. At 40 minutes the onions are still whitish and there is still lots of liquid.

7. At 1 hour of cooking the onions become slightly amber, and are 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick in the pan.

{Now stir every 4 minutes or more—you want it golden, but not burnt.}

8. At 1 hour, 10 minutes you will be finished, or nearly so. The marmalade with be deep amber in color and thick.

Fill a jar and serve it to friends. They will thank you. Enjoy!

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 13:07:11

    Thank you, thank you! I might make this this very evening, and will definitely make it for Chris and Mona in Copenhagen, as well as leaving a nice jar for the people whose house I am sitting in August….perhaps my friend Danielle in Paris would like it too. What a great idea! I can practically taste it….


  2. Sue
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 13:08:04

    I’ll also look up Le Tibre when I get to Paris…🙂


  3. Sue
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 13:12:05

    Oops – restaurant is Le Timbre….but I found it!


  4. Twila
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 23:14:02

    I’ll have to try this. I think we would like it. Do you think they could be canned for later? I always have alot of onions, to many. This would be a great way to use some of them up. I’m wondering though if I’d have to add alittle vinegar, which might ruin the flavor, and I also would have no idea how long to process them.


    • 129twigandvine
      Jun 04, 2011 @ 08:35:05

      Hi Twila, I wondered about canning it too and looked around on line for information. I didn’t find anything conclusive about how long to process it, and since it takes 12 cups raw material to make one jar I wasn’t sure how many jars I could make at one time. And the one jar I usually make gets eaten up so quickly!! I think you could manage to make four jars worth at once by having to cast iron Dutch Ovens going at the same time. The beauty of the recipe is that it takes a long time, but doesn’t require constant stirring once the onions let out some juice. I wonder if you’d up the sugar a bit if it wouldn’t be preservative enough? I’m thinking of all the fruit/sugar jams I make that last forever… I’ll keep researching. Also let me know if you find anything!


  5. Roz
    Jun 08, 2011 @ 10:13:09

    I love goat cheese tarts. I always get them when I go to Balthazar Bakery. And I LOVE onions. I am definitely going to try this recipe. Thank you.


  6. gloriadelia
    Jun 08, 2011 @ 10:38:26

    Sounds very interesting, although I can’t seem to like goat cheese. I’ve tried it plain, and smothered with seasonings, but…. 😦

    Love your writing style. Congratulations being freshly pressed!


  7. Dina
    Jun 09, 2011 @ 00:46:42

    Okay – you’ve got me plotting…. My friend Michelle’s goats are about to kid any day now… I can trade her eggs from my hens for some of her goat milk, which in turn I can make some lovely chevre with, on which to put some delicious onion marmalade. I definitely should have eaten dinner before I read this!


  8. themuffinmyth
    Jun 09, 2011 @ 02:37:47

    This looks amazing. I do a pizza topped with about 4 large onions which I slice and then caramelize over low heat for about an hour. I brush the dough with olive oil, spread the onions over top, dot with soft goats cheese and salty black olives, then slide into the oven. It is one of my favourite things. I will have to give this marmalade a try.


  9. Jenny C
    Jun 09, 2011 @ 13:48:58

    awesome! definitely going to try this out!


  10. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide
    Jun 10, 2011 @ 14:43:15

    Wow that looks amazing and would be so great on a cheese plate, a burger, my taste buds…. Love the puppy too.


  11. pinkpolkadotfood
    Jun 11, 2011 @ 11:23:25

    I can’t believe that it is so easy!! Thanks, I am definitely going to try it!


  12. Trackback: Onion Revelation « Check Your Premises
  13. Deborah
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 23:35:07

    We bought 10 lbs of onions for 5 bucks at our farmers’ market today, and this (along with french onion soup) must be made!! YUM!


  14. Trackback: Blue and White, Anticipating Gateaux, and Simmering Onion Marmalade «


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