Both have the same effect: to set the mood. Onions get right to work scenting the kitchen savory, flavoring the oil sweet, deepening the color and complexity of the dish as it unfurls.
I had assumed the onion spectrum ran from pale to sticky to crisp. An assumption, like most, that proved clumsy.
I was enlightened while cooking curry with friends. The recipe I'd been assigned called for onions, brown-fried. Which called for me to look perplexed. And, giving in, to read the instructions.
Brown-fry is unique — or so the cookbook claimed — to Indian cuisine. It sizzles in the zone between saute and deep-fry. Compared with browning, the technique calls for more oil — about 2 tablespoons per cup of onions. It calls for more heat — a medium-high flame. And it calls for more attention — constant stirring until the onions turn a deep crisp/tender brown.
It's a lovely method and yielded a lovely stew. It's good to know that even "Once upon a time" can be refreshed. And refreshing.
Indian lamb and cashew stew
Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 1 hour 15 minutes
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
2 pounds ground lamb
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
3 teaspoons garam masala or ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander