CURIOUS COOK: Getting yourself out of a Jam


Pizza, paper clips, Mason jars, and a ’57 Fender Stratocaster (a guitar): these all come up when you ask Mr. Google to name the most versatile item ever made.

Yeah…well, no. With all due respect, Mr. Google is wrong with a capital Wrong.

The actual most versatile thing is a food. (Well, of course, it’s food; you were expecting maybe sweatpants?) It’s cheap, peasant food really, and super easy to make. It doesn’t need a lot of finesse, just time and a bare minimum of attention. With ingredients bought on the right day, the whole thing can be made for $5 or less.

So Gentle Reader, what is this inexpensive culinary game-changer?

It’s onion jam.

For those of you who know, you know. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, there are probably odd images in your head — peanut butter and onions? Allium jelly roll? Pop-tarts full of onions? It sounds like something out of the “Mr. Grinch” song.

But hear me out.

I mean, I guess you could do all of those things with onion jam…but there are so many other wonderful things that this uber-versatile condiment can do.

Schmear it onto fresh sourdough, or a bagel, or a baguette with some brie — or serve with sliced roast beef, crispy sausages, cornbread, crostini with sun-dried tomatoes, black pepper biscuits, grilled chicken, and crackers along with some farmer’s cheese.

Stir it into French onion soup, smothered pork chops, and Alfredo sauce. Stuff it under the skin of a chicken before roasting. Spread onto flatbread and add crispy bacon and goat cheese. Drop a couple big spoonsful into a batch of buttermilk mashed potatoes.

Elevate breakfast and lunch. Mix it into scrambled eggs or hash. Spoon some between cheddar slices and make an intensely delicious grilled cheese or patty melt.

For the hooch portion of the program, I usually use dry sherry or marsala. But you can use bourbon, brandy, mead, or even some veggie stock. One note: The flavor is ridiculously intense and fairly sweet; so start with a little and add more as needed.

Look, I know you can’t play “Purple Haze” on this onion jam. But hey, if you try to use an electric guitar to make risotto, you’ll just ruin a $10,000 musical instrument.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at


5 pounds yellow onions

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ teaspoon salt + more to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper + more to taste

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1/3 cup wine, beer, or spirits

Peel onions, cut them in half and slice into ¼-inch half-moons. Put them into large, heavy Dutch oven with tightly fitted lid. Pour in oil. Add salt, pepper, and thyme.

Stir together to coat. Place on stove and turn to 2-3 or medium-low. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. You’re looking to get all the water out of the onions. Uncover, give it a stir, and take a look. If it’s not ready, recover and cook more, checking every 10 minutes or so.

When the onions are wilted-looking, and swimming in an inch or two of liquid, uncover.

Continue to cook, stirring every 15-20 minutes. Keep cooking until they’re the color of an untoasted pecan, with flecks or caramel (2-3 hours). At this stage, onions will be cooked down to around two cups.

Turn burner up to just over medium (6-ish). Let the pan heat up, then pour in the Marsala. Scrape up browned bits on the pan bottom and cook wine is gone and the jam is a nice deep caramel color. Taste for seasoning.

Store onions in airtight container in the fridge for 1 week or freeze for 2 months.


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