According to the Oxford Companion to Food, the term “confit” comes from the French verb confire, meaning “preserve.”  It’s traditionally used to describe the process of cooking meat (typically duck or other poultry) slowly in its own fat, then storing the cooked meat in the fat as a means of extending its shelf life and enhancing its flavor.

Today you see recipes for confit of all manner of vegetables and fruits:  tomato, cabbage, rhubarb, lemon, apple, even pineapple.  Many of these are really confiture, a noun meaning “preserve” or “jam,” and are as likely to be cooked with sugar as with fat.  They keep well and make versatile condiments, turning otherwise simple dishes into something special.

Whatever you call it, these onions are improbably rich and sweet and as suited to a standing rib roast as a steak sandwich.  I like the flavor of beer in this recipe, but you could substitute 1 c. chicken or vegetable stock plus 2 tbsp. balsamic or white wine vinegar.  Slicing the onions lengthwise helps them keep their shape — if you want a softer, more jam-like consistency, cut crosswise.

Onion confit

Yield:  Makes about 2 cups

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 Spanish onions, halved, peeled, and sliced lengthwise (about 12 cups)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 c. beer (I use a brown ale, like Newcastle) or chicken stock

Warm a deep, 12-inch skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened and reduced in volume and are just barely starting to brown, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, lower heat to medium-low, and cook another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft.  Stir in thyme and beer, raise heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid is evaporated and onions are golden brown, about an hour.  Onion confit will keep for at least a week in the fridge, and should be served warm or at room temperature.

Five things to do with onion confit

  • Dress up your sandwiches.  Try it with roast beef, grilled cheese, arugula and goat cheese, fried or roasted eggplant and tomato, or mashed white beans and roasted garlic.
  • Serve alongside roast chicken, pork, or salmon.  Or mix with minced olives and breadcrumbs and top or stuff the chicken, pork, or salmon.
  • Stir into hot, cooked grains (barley would be nice) or spoon over soft polenta or mashed potatoes.
  • Make hors d’oeuvres:  Rub toasted baguette slices with garlic (or spread with roasted garlic).  Top with onions.  Add anything else you like.
  • Spread it on a pizza instead of tomato sauce.  Top with fontina cheese, cooked sausage, or both.  Or try olives and anchovies.  Or fresh mozzarella and basil.