Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pump Up the Taste with Onion Sauce

Onion Sauce
Peel & boil onions tender; squeeze the water from them, then chop & add butter that has been nicely melted, but with milk instead of water. boil up once & serve for Rabbits, Partridges, veal.

Recipe Provenance
This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

About the Recipe
This recipe is for a white onion sauce which is designed to be served with rabbit, poultry, partridges, tripe, mutton, veal etc.  I even found some Italian onion sauce recipes to be served with either peas or hard cooked eggs. 

1840 - Eliza Leslie, Directions for Cookery (Philadelphia)

Brown onions sauces, on the other hand, have beef gravy in them and are designed to be served with beef but also roasted poultry or game.

1886 - Miss Corson's Practical American Cookery (New York)

About the Onions
Onions go back in history to prehistoric times and are generally thought to have emerged from central Asia. One of the earliest records of onions goes back to 3200 BC to the first dynasty of ancient Egypt. Ancient Greeks and Romans also ate onions. The Romans introduced the onion to the British it and since then it has been a very important part of the British diet. 

Wild onions are native in America; however, Christopher Columbus introduced the cultivated onion to the new world and native Americans were very taken with it.

Historically, over thousands of years, cultivated onions have been available in a variety of types. Onions come in many sizes (small pickling varieties to large globe varieties), colors (white, brown, yellow and red), and levels of pungency (mild to strong).

For this recipe, I suggest using sweet onions, such as Spanish  or Vidalia onions. I found a recipe for Brown Onion Sauce from Eliza Leslie's Directions for Cookery (1840) that specifically lists Spanish onions in the recipe and so thought they would be the best onion to use. Spanish onions are mild globe onions with a slightly sweet oniony taste which is perfect for this recipe.

Onion Sauce: Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • 2 Large Sweet Onions (preferably Spanish)
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 Tablespoons Milk
  • Salt and Pepper, to Taste
  1. Peel the onions and cut them in half keeping the root intact.
  2. Place the onions in a medium stockpot and cover with cold water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the onions become soft and translucent.
  3. Remove the onions from the heat, drain, and chop. 
  4. Place the butter in a sauté pan and place over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions and stir frequently for about 3-5 minutes. Add the milk, and salt and pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Or, you can keep the onions chunky.
  6. Serve hot with poultry, lamb, rabbit or wild game.

  • Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press, 2014)

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