At some point, I’ll get around to writing a longer treatise on the wonders – consisting, in roughly equal proportion, of cardiac perfidy and gustatory revelation – of In-N-Out’s “Animal Style” offerings. But not today. Today – and, if you saw my recent column on Savory Onion Jam, I guess you’d say all week – I have eyes only for condiments, and few condiments inspire like In-N-Out’s insanely caramelized onions.
But to relegate Animal status to that of the generically caramelized onion would be to call a dinosaur a lizard or your spouse a good friend, because Animal Style onions are to your garden-variety caramelized onion what the Autobahn is to a carpool lane: Made from the same stuff, designed for the same purpose, but pushed to the very logical extreme of its functional existence. Animal Style onions aren’t just caramelized, they’re stewed into oblivion, until they are no longer even recognizable as onions per se, but rather as some freakish fantasy version of French onion soup that could suspend a spoon vertically by virtue of its sheer density. (Mandatory hat-tip to Kenji over at The Burger Lab, who first got me thinking about blurring the line between onions and soup in this post.)
I actually have no insight, literally none whatsoever, into how In-N-Out makes theirs, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I should care; what matters is that I’ve constructed an exceptional reproduction – dare I say, a better version than the mold form whence it was borne – in my own kitchen, and out of really good, local ingredients. The stuff would probably keep for months in the fridge, but I go through it far too quickly for that: Slathered on cheeseburgers (see picture inset), as a condiment for a juicy steak, in omelets… Really, this stuff just rocks, and I’d put it virtually anywhere that a sweet, onion-y flavor is welcome without thinking too hard about it.
Caramelized Onion Jam, “Animal Style”
- Finely chop 2-3lbs of sweet onions (I’ve been using local Cipollini’s since late summer from Love Farms, Bernier Farms, and Foggy River Farms, and they are exceptional, but they seem to be out of season now; a decent Walla Walla, Maui, or Vidalia will work just fine, and – given the abuse they’re going to get – the generic yellow supermarket “Spanish” onion would probably be almost indistinguishable.)
- Slowly caramelize the onions in peanut or canola oil in a large pan over medium-low heat, along with a healthy sprinkling of sugar and salt. As they start to dry out, deglaze with a half cup or so of good-quality balsamic vinegar, and let them cook all the way out again. Go on like this for up to an hour, until the onions start to darken and are very fragrant and soft all the way through.
- Cover the onions in stock (I used chicken, but you could make it even richer with dark beef or veal stock; or you could use veggie stock and have an acceptable and vegetarian-friendly version – why you’d do such a thing, well, that’s for you to decide) and slowly braise them for another 1-2 hours, until all the liquid has been cooked away and you’re left with a very thick stew.