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Onions pump up the flavor in any meal

'Braised Short Ribs with Caramelized Onions' is plated by Executive Chef James O'Donnell Michael Jordan's Steak House Tuesday January 22

"Braised Short Ribs with Caramelized Onions" is plated by Executive Chef James O'Donnell at Michael Jordan's Steak House on Tuesday, January 22, 2013. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 1, 2013 8:30AM

One of my favorite ingredients has always been onions. Simple yet versatile, they are a kitchen essential.

There are countless ways for home cooks to prepare onions. Some of my favorites are often on the menu at our restaurant: pickled, pureed, smoked, fried, grilled, roasted and caramelized.

As a longtime steakhouse chef — my first job as a teenager was at a steakhouse — my love for onions is only natural. The two complement each other so well.

For a heavily marbled cut such as a ribeye, I prefer pickled red onions to cut the richness of the beef. The onions’ acidity and mild heat cleanse some of the fat off your palate. This preparation also tastes great with prime rib.

I like serving leaner cuts with a charred onion puree, which adds some needed fat and depth of flavor. Caramelized onions are fantastic with slow-cooked meats such as braised short ribs. The ribs take on a subtle sweetness from the onions during cooking.

Another way I enjoy onions is simply julienned and sauteed in duck fact. Add fingerling potatoes (cooked in that same duck fat), salt, pepper and parsley, and you have a great side dish for any cut.

Onion jam is a simple but creative way to make your steak more interesting, and it’s easy to make. Sweat diced sweet onions in butter, add port wine and a cinnamon stick and cook slowly until the port is reduced and the mixture has a jam-like consistency. Season with salt, pepper and a splash of good red wine vinegar and you are set. I love this with a blue cheese-crusted filet mignon.

To really impress your guests, serve onions “three ways.” Grill your favorite cut, serve it atop charred onion puree, top the steak with caramelized onions and finish with crispy onion rings.

And if you find yourself out West, you absolutely can’t go wrong with one of my favorite takes on beef paired with onions — In-N-Out Burger’s Double Double with grilled onions.

James O’Donnell is the chef at Michael Jordan’s Steak House, 505 N. Michigan.

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