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Sweet and smoky onions

Date

Jill Dupleix

From the humble barbecue to the fanciest restaurants, black is the new black, writes Jill Dupleix.

Hot Food

Taste the burn ... the sweet smoky flavour of charred onions is an international hit.

Taste the burn ... the sweet smoky flavour of charred onions is an international hit. Photo: Edwina Pickles

What is it?

Uh oh, something's burning. And it's your dinner. And it's deliberate. The restaurant trend for burnt or charred onions, carrots, apples, pears (and even parsley) is not a symptom of the chef taking his eye off the stove at the crucial moment, but a deliberate attempt to add a smoky flavour, aroma and contrast.

Where is it?

Rene Redzepi chars onions on a barbie out the back of his world-famous restaurant Noma, before peeling them into dramatically dark-edged, cone-like cups drizzled with onion broth and thyme oil. In Melbourne, Age Young Chef of the Year Mark Briggs of the Sharing House serves a terrine of partridge and chanterelle mushrooms with charred onions, merlot vinegar and toasted brioche. ''It just gives the dish a different element, an edge of bitterness,'' he says. ''It reminds me of those caramelised onions you get at a good barbecue.'' At Northcote's Estelle Bar & Kitchen, chef Scott Pickett embraces the trend with his Sher wagyu beef with burnt onions and horseradish. ''I used to love all those caramelised bits of roast lamb and vegetables that stick to the roasting pan and had to be scraped off,'' he says. ''It's like revisiting my childhood.''

Why do I care?

Because charred onions are deliciously sweet and smoky. Because they are fun to serve at everything from dinner parties to barbecues. And because the next time you accidentally burn anything, you can just say black is the new black.

Can I do it at home?

Of course. Use your kitchen grill or a flat griddle on the cooktop, or go for the burn outside on the barbie, then finish the cooking in the oven (you can even scorch them in a non-stick frying pan for five minutes). Just bear in mind, there is a very fine line between grilling and burning.

Trending Mixologists around the world are creating smoked cocktails by steeping bourbon, tequila or Campari with charcoal chips, adding smoked jalapenos or tobacco-laced syrup, or serving over smoke-infused ice.

Charred onions with red capsicum and goat's curd

4 white or yellow onions, unpeeled
1 tbsp olive oil
2 red capsicums, roasted, skinned, sliced
200g goat's curd or soft goat's cheese
3 red-skinned radishes, finely sliced
4 tbsp fruity extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tbsp coriander leaves

1. Heat the grill, and heat the oven to 200C.

2. Cut the onions in half and brush the cut sides with olive oil. Grill (or pan-fry) the onions cut-side down until blackened, about five minutes.

3. Bake for a further 45 minutes to one hour, depending on size, until just cooked through. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then peel off the outside skins and separate the onion into ''cups''.

4. Arrange five of the best-looking cups on each dinner plate (use remaining onion in stews, soups, salads or serve with roasts). Arrange roasted red capsicums, goat's curd and radish in a natural composition.

5. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and pepper, and spoon over the top, letting it pool in the onions.

6. Scatter with coriander leaves and serve.

Serves 4

Trending: Mixologists around the world are creating smoked cocktails by steeping bourbon, tequila or Campari with charcoal chips, adding smoked jalapenos or tobacco-laced syrup, or serving over smoke-infused ice.

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