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Testing recipe writers

(article, Culinate staff)

If you’ve ever been the victim of a recipe that takes far longer than promised, you’ll probably enjoy Tom Scocca’s Slate post on why recipe writers lie about how long it takes to caramelize onions.

“Onions do not caramelize in five or 10 minutes. They never have, they never will — yet recipe writers have never stopped pretending that they will,” he writes.

The problem is not limited to onion cooking. Again and again, recipes promise to be quick — short prep times, with minimal hands-on activity — only to disappoint the busy home cook. So what gives?

Scocca’s take: “Telling the truth about caramelized onions would turn a lot of dinner-in-half-an-hour recipes into dinner-in-a-little-over-an-hour recipes.”
In the never-ending quest to make cooking seem quick, recipe writers have shaved minutes off of each step in an attempt to appeal to the kitchen-averse. The fact is that unless you have a cadre of prep cooks at the ready, most recipes take longer than they say they will. And until someone invents a faster stove, onions will need 45 minutes to caramelize.

So if you want to cook something that involves caramelized onions and you need to do it in 30 minutes? Cook the onions the night before, says Scocca. A little advance prep can make Wednesday night’s meal actually go as fast as your recipe promises.