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As a young chef, I would often think that the more ridiculously labour-intensive
I made a dish, the better it would be. Of course, this is nonsense and made life
very difficult. It certainly takes a confident chef not to overcomplicate recipes and
now I feel a lot more comfortable knowing when to stop. A few years ago, I used
to do a fish dish with ‘onion sauce’. The sauce would take three days to make: 25
kilos of white onions were cooked incredibly slowly to create a small, sweet ball
of caramelised onions. In the meantime, two meat stocks were made and then
reduced over the sticky onions. A bottle of Madeira and some more burnt onions
were added and by the end of the third day a wonderful sweet, velvety sauce
would be complete. It was delicious but for me and the sauce chef Nick it took
over our lives. The sauce was not just hard work but an obsession, so much so that
when we sat down for a beer at the end of the day our colleagues would complain
how badly we smelt of onions!

A couple of years later I thought I had seen the back of it, but Nick’s onion
obsession had not ceased and he refined the onion sauce, making the process
much simpler and the sauce much lighter.

Posted by Orion Books Published See Orion Books's 81 projects » © 2023 Tommy Banks / Orion Books · Reproduced with permission. · ROOTS by Tommy Banks, 5th April 2018, hardback, £25, Seven Dials. Photography by Andrew Hayes-Watkins
  • Step 1

    Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6. Lightly
    oil the chicken wings and space out in a roasting tin.
    Roast for about 15 minutes. Turn the wings over in their
    fat and roast for another 15 minutes at 180°C/350°F/
    Gas mark 4, and finally for 15 minutes at 170°C/325°F/
    Gas mark 3 after turning them over again. They should
    be very brown and sticky. Pour the fat out of the tin and
    discard, but deglaze the caramelised goodness with a
    little water and reserve.

  • Step 2

    Meanwhile, place the halved onion in a lightly oiled
    heavy-based ovenproof frying pan, with a similar pan
    placed on top, acting as a weight. Sizzle over a high
    heat for a good couple of minutes then transfer the
    onion (still sandwiched between the pans) to share the
    200°C/180°C oven with the wings for 15–20 minutes.
    The onion should be soft all the way through and
    blackened on the cut side.

  • Step 3

    Combine the wings, deglazed juices and blackened
    onion in a stockpot with enough cold water to cover
    everything by a good inch and bring to the boil.
    Turn down to a simmer and cook for about 3 hours,
    skimming off any scum as it rises to the surface. Strain
    the stock through a fine sieve and then a muslin cloth.
    It should make around 1.5 litres.

  • Step 4

    While the stock is cooking, heat a little oil in another
    large pan and add the sliced onions and salt to taste.
    Cook them over a high heat for a minute or so, before
    turning the heat right down and letting them completely
    wilt and soften. Increase the heat a little and allow
    them to caramelise and stick to the pan, scraping and
    stirring each time just before they actually burn. The
    mixture will eventually be a very deep brown colour, and
    extremely sweet and sticky.

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