Cook onions until they go from opaque to translucent. This is done for lighter food such as seafood and some chicken dishes. Time: 4 to 6 minutes over medium-high heat
Onions Cooked to Golden Brown
Cook onions until they are browned around the edges. Great for most dishes: chicken, vegetables and some meat. Time: 8 to 15 minutes over medium-high heat
Onions Cooked to Dark Brown and Caramelized
Cooking onions to a dark brown caramelize color will add a richness to anything you are cooking. This method is used when making meat dishes, especially mutton curries. Time: 25 to 35 minutes
Birista ~ Onions Cooked until Crispy
Birista is simply onions fried in oil until golden brown and crispy. They are used in biryanis, kormas, pulaos, and more. Time: (depending on the amount)this level of browning onions takes up to 30 minutes depending on the quantity of onions you are using.
The key to good birista is to cut the onions very thin and evenly; use a mandolin if you have one. Dry the onions thoroughly on a clean kitchen towel.
In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, add oil enough to cover the onions. Add the onions (in 2 batches if cooking more than 2 cups of onions) and the salt and cook for 8 to 12 minutes. Turn the heat down to simmer and continue to cook until the onions are a shade lighter then you are looking for. The onions will continue to cook and darken for several minutes after removing from the oil.
Drain the onions on paper towels and allow to cool for 5 minutes or more. If only keeping for 3 to 4 days, leave the birista at room temperature. They will lose their flavor and crispness in the refrigerator. To keep the onions longer, place in an airtight container, and store in the freezer.
Tips on cooking onions:
While cooking onions for a masala, if they ever start looking dry and start sticking to the bottom of the pan, or are browning too fast, stir in a splash of water to moisten them. Keep water by your stove while cooking!
Especially when making crispy onions or birista, cook more than you need for your current cooking and freeze. Place in an airtight container and store in the freezer. Don’t store birista in the refrigerator even if only keeping for 3 to 4 days, because they will lose their flavor and crispness.