Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Condimentally speaking

My fridge is full of condiments. Salsa, mustard (two types), barbecue sauce (three kinds), pesto, sriracha, chipotle, harissa, scorpion chili sauce – and that’s just what I can think of without going to look.

I find they help immensely when I’m deciding how to jazz up a sarnie come lunch time, and now that I’m working from home more and more, they are a culinary godsend.

More often than not, I’m combining one sauce or paste with mayo for a flavoured lubrication. Just like cheese in all its majesty, every good sandwich needs lubrication. “Let’s get lubed up,” I regularly say to an empty house circa 1pm.


But increasingly in recent weeks I find I am hoarding little tubs of ingredients-cum-condiments. If, for example, I’ve made a batch of coleslaw on a Sunday afternoon, a little tub containing the remnants will happily live among its condiment brethren until its creator calls on it to do its duty.

Then there’s my pan-fried, herby stuffing. This isn’t stuffing in the traditional sense that it has ‘stuffed’ anything in particular but rather, the pan-crisped breadcrumbs bear the traditional stuffing flavours of sage and onion and seasoning.

I’ve taken to using left-over wheaten bread or the tail end of a sourdough loaf, blitzing them (and often making a crazy mess) with my handheld blender before adding them to onions I have softening in butter, adding herbs and turning up the heat to crisp-ify everything.

I’ve lost count of the number of Christmas sandwiches I’ve had over the past few weeks, such is the magnificence of that stuffing.

However and although, when it comes to a condiment-cum-ingredient that I can’t resist since I first discovered its magnificence, it’s burnt onions.

A different animal to its near relation, caramelised onions, burnt onions are a cinch to make (they take a fraction of the time too) and they are also, on the whole, less overpowering.


Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed many a carmelised onion in the past but sometimes they can dominate proceedings rather than contribute. Enter the burnt variety.


Since I first starting making these bad boys a few weeks ago, there has been a near constant supply in my retro-style fridge. Think of a savoury dish and burnt onions are that dish’s friends – and best friends at that. To date I’ve had them in sandwiches (obviously), atop burgers, squirrelled inside a burrito, along a poshdog, astride soup and even with fish. In a word, they are absolutely super-duper must-have-at-all-times, condiment-ingredients for anyone’s collection.

And best of all, I discovered them by accident.

In one of my rare piques of healthiness, I was having spiced vegetable couscous and one of the components therein was burnt onions. “Sure, the couscous will do rightly without the onions – you need food now!” my greedy H of a stomach asserted.

“Patience,” I replied. “These onions will be ready in a jiffington.”

Soft and sweet within and burnt and bitter without, I soon discovered it is the inner clash of flavours that makes these onions work. I am open to correction here, but for me they lend that umami schmecken that parmesan and soy sauce has in spades. The more you eat, the more ways you want to eat them.

“Rub them al round ye!” the greedy H of a stomach insisted as soon as I’d tasted that first pinch.

“Patience, devil!”

Anyway, what I’m slowly getting around to saying is that burnt onions is your new favourite tub of loveliness that your own fridge can’t afford to whir without. Maybe that doesn’t make much sense but look-see, just make them.

• 2/3 onions (depending on how big your frying pan is and how much it can hold) sliced
• splash of olive oil (a ‘splash’ ‘cause this isn’t science class)
• big pinch of salt

 Add the oil to the pan and dump in the onions with that pinch of salt. Fry hard, as hot as the heat will go for about a minute, stirring as you go. As soon as the onions start to colour, turn the heat down low and let them sweat away for ten or 15 minutes until they’re soft.

Then, turn the heat up high again and fry hard and hot once more stirring all the while, until you have the desired char along the onions but not utter cinders. Don’t blacken the whole lot or there’ll be no sweetness left. Maybe just half-char them as in the picture included.

And that’s the lot.

Don’t worry if you or your stomach advises rubbing them al round ye. This is normal. But try and resist. They’re much better in a sarnie or a wrap or maybe even bunched on a steak.

But by way of experimenting with your new ingredient, take a pinch of the burnt onions and place on a small slice of cheese. What about that for magnificence!

FOOTNOTE: I’m willing to bet good money that these little slivers of heaven will adorn with mighty aplomb a goats cheese pizza or any pizza for that matter. But me and the greedy H will come back to you on that one. Jeez! Come to think of it, I could even put these onions into mayo! A burnt onion mayo?


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