Most of us are of the romantic opinion that all French people all over France eat heavenly, flaky croissants every morning for breakfast. As most romantic worldviews, it is not true. Most French people actually have toast with butter and jam (confitures) as their first meal. When I was last in Paris, I bought a jar of confit d’oignons. It was a sweet-savory onion jam and I put the damn stuff on everything. It was finished before I could say petit déjeuner, and I haven’t thought about it since. (Wait, wait… I’m not just ranting. There’s a lesson in all this, I promise.) I recently read a book about French cuisine (more on that later), wherein confit was listed as one of the classic cooking techniques. Confit usually refers to a preservation method for duck and other game meats, which involves salting the meat to draw out its moisture, and cooking it over low heat for a long time in a pot of fat. The fat replaces the moisture in the meat and preserves its freshness for months on end. To serve, the meat is crisped in its own fat, making a luxurious, delicious dish. So why are the duck and the jam both confit? And what’s the difference between confit and confitures, anyway?
A Google search revealed that to confit is to preserve food with salt, sugar, acid, fat, or anything with preservative qualities; confiture, on the other hand, is when the preservative substance contains at least 55% sugar (gotta love the French and all their food rules). I don’t know about you, but I sure feel a whole lot smarter knowing these technical terms.
So now that we know what we’re doing, let’s make us some onion confit. This condiment is great in warm sandwiches, omelets, and on grilled beef or lamb, and it makes everything it touches instantly better. You won’t believe how easy it is to make. The key things to remember are: to keep the heat very low while cooking the onions, to keep stirring the onions occasionally, and to not let them brown.
A note on grilled cheese: for the most part we are advised to butter the outward-facing sides of the bread for grilled cheese. I keep my butter in the fridge, which means it’s cold and hard to spread, so whenever I try to butter the bread for grilled cheese, I end up denting the bread. Instead, I just melt some butter in the skillet. The bread gets to keep its integrity, and crisp up nicely too. Try it!
- 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp caraway seeds (*optional)
- 2 slices whole wheat sandwich bread
- A few teaspoons prepared onion confit
- A few slices of sharp cheddar cheese (havarti or fontina would make lovely substitutes)
- 1 tsp butter
- Add butter and olive oil to a large skillet and heat over a low flame. Add onions and salt and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent; if onions begin to dry out, add a tablespoon of water to the skillet. Add sugar, stir to dissolve, and add vinegar and caraway seeds.
- Continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 min, until the onions are pasty. Onion confit can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to one week.
- Layer onion confit and slices of cheese between bread. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat and cook the sandwich for 2-3 min per side, until the cheese is melted and the bread is crisp.