Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dandelion and spring onion french dip

Now for the more interesting thing to do with dandelions and caramelized onions that I promised. But before going into the sandwich itself, let's talk caramelization. I've used the word before, but I've really just meant browning the onions or whatever. Real caramelization is something else entirely. It's kind of like how both grilling and slow smoking go by the name barbecue. Here's how I went about doing the real thing.

First I sliced up the spring onions, cleaned them well, and put them into my giant cast iron pot with just a little salt and a little oil. The angle's not good, but it's about 2/3 of the way full.

After 45 minutes covered at medium heat they're fairly well reduced and there's a good bit of liquid accumulated. At this point I removed the lid to let the liquid boil off.

About an hour later, the liquid's just about gone and the onions are starting to collapse. There's been a bit of browning [It's more attractive with white onions.], and the pot is starting to sizzle a little at this point. I turned the down to medium-low and started stirring more frequently, about every 10 minutes instead of every 20.

A half hour later, the onions have cooked down even more, have browned appreciably and are melting into kind of an onion jam. Cooking longer would be better, but there's real danger of burning so I pulled them out at this point. The flavor is kind of like browned onions, but sweeter with a lingering mellow complex savoriness. Really lovely.

Now that I've got my onions, on to building my sandwich.

I started by stemming and blanching my dandelions. Then I put a cup of beef broth in a pan, cooked it down a little to concentrate the flavor, added a dollop of caramelized onion and then the dandelion.

While that simmered, I laid a few slices of roast beef on top to warm through and cook just a little. After the beef was warmed up, I grated some sharp cheddar cheese on top. And finally, I assembled the sandwich with all those components plus some tomato.

The dandelion is carrying a lot of beef broth so the bread got properly wet just after I took this picture. I had a little cup for dipping too, but I didn't really need it.

You've got the beef's savoriness against the sweet onion, sharp cheddar, slightly bitter greens and the acid of the tomato--just a lovely combination of flavors. Would browned onions have worked as well? Not really. That would be good too, but it would be more a standard cheese steak flavor profile. This is something different; the caramelization brings out more of a pot roast aspect to the beef so there are different elements coming to the fore. I should make it both ways and compare and contrast, really.

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