The Magic Onion Effect

A cherished ritual seems to have sprung up in this house, without us ever consciously putting it into effect: we go out to a local restaurant, just the four of us, every Friday night for dinner. The culinary options in our neighborhood being somewhat…limited, we usually end up at a sushi place run by a super friendly Japanese man who I will call Bob. Bob works as hard as is humanly possible. Bob cares. He is the great patriarch of the place, demanding and loving, standing by the door in sushi chef garb, directing traffic, taking pickup orders by phone, making the rounds to check on general levels of satisfaction. He has a photographic memory, as well, which manifests itself in a remarkable ability to remember every customer’s name, which I know because he shouts every customer’s name the second they walk in the door. ANDY! TODD! JENNIFER! EMILY! HELLOHOWAREYOUUUUUUUU! There’s a big, well-tended fish tank by the door, and some mermaid murals on the walls, and the fish is good and fresh; the kids love it here. We always order family style, and we’ve got it down to a science: yellow tail scallion roll, eight pieces of salmon sushi, spicy shrimp tempura roll, a few pieces of tuna, coupla orders of shumai, coupla bowls of miso, and most important, one chicken teriyaki dinner, which is served in a sizzling cast-iron skillet. The chicken is tender, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and cut into strips, but it’s the onions that we end up fighting over. They’re sweet and still slightly crunchy, caramelized in the pan and doused in teriyaki sauce. Abby drizzles them over her rice and goes to town; Phoebe just takes her chopsticks and shovels them in until the pan is picked clean. Without fail, they are the highlight of the meal.

We’ve chronicled our caramelized onion obsession here before — and in Jenny’s book — but a little homemade teriyaki sauce takes things to another level. The first time I made these, I spooned them over some fresh tuna, which I seared in a grill pan on the stovetop. The next time, we served them with roasted salmon. They go with almost everything, is the thing: steak, chicken, fish, tofu, they’d even be good on a burger (with some hoisin instead of ketchup, mmmmmm). The downside is, we never have enough. My hard-won advice: use more onions than you think you’ll need, because you’ll need them. — Andy

Teriyaki Onions

Teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp chicken broth
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
3 scallions minced
2 tsp sesame oil

Add all of the ingredients above to a bowl or large measuring cup, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Thinly slice two or three large yellow onions and sautee in cast iron skillet (with one tbsp canola or grapeseed oil) over medium heat until they soften slightly, about five minutes. Drizzle in a few spoonfuls of the teriyaki sauce, to coat the onions, and stir. Cook 2-3 minutes, until sauce is absorbed. Then, do it again: drizzle some of the sauce over the onions — but don’t let it get soupy, you don’t want to boil these things — and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with chicken, fish, or rice.

Speaking of cast iron skillets, the newsletter giveaway winner of the super-awesome Lodge Cast Iron Skillet that we use daily is Sarah L . Thanks to everyone who participated! 

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Lucy Mitchell

My mouth is watering! And btw, thanks so much for recommending The Bat Poet. Santa put a copy into my sons stocking at Christmas and it was such a pleasure to see him leaning back on his pillows and reading it.


wow. this is one of the best round ups i’ve ever read. i just seriously lost approximately 3 hours of my life. lost isn’t right. more like – blinked and 3 hours had passed very enjoyably on accident.


Maria Tadic

This is such a fun recipe. I love caramelized onions and usually just stick to thyme and little garlic. This will be a nice switch up!! Thanks!


Have you ever tried making caramelized onions in a crock pot? They actually turn out really great, and you can make HUGE quantities with very little effort. I once made a batch for a party where we made grilled pizzas on the BBQ and topped them with the caramelized onions (and a few other choice ingredients)…big hit!


I just happened to have teriyaki salmon, edamame, salad and…frozen tjs mac and cheese planned for tonight. The mac and cheese is my son’s gateway food. He will try other foods if this is presented alongside. Anyway…whoa. Those onions. They made that salmon soooo good. So good. Thanks.


Great tweak to caramelized onions. I understand your point about never having enough – same in this household. Can’t wait to try these!


Looks like something we will devour soon. I’m thinking on top of bread toasted under the broiler, and under a poached egg. Mmmm, teriyaki onions. (Also – do you ever fry onions in a wok? One of our new favorite ways – they get that same addictive caramel-y sweetness but are crisp inside instead of silky … )


YAY I’m so excited!! Can’t wait to break it in 🙂 Thank you DALS!!

I love caramelized onions – my step sister makes this amazing bruschetta where you top the toasted bread with goat cheese and caramelized onions. So simple and to die for.


I totally agree with you guys. I also like to dip steamed broccoli in the remains of the chicken teriyaki onions 🙂


p.s. – just made these for dinner for my little ones. Made double the marinade, and cooked a one pound piece of Alaskan true cod in the pan (cut into four chunks) with the onions pushed to one side. AMAZING. Kids still hollering for more onions 🙂


We have a magic-onion-effect too. Saute sliced onions in olive oil until softened. Add 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, and 1T of honey, 1T brown sugar, and some thyme if you have it. Let cook down a bit, then pour over your favorite protein and bake. (It’s great over salmon and cod, and probably lots of other fish.)