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I was recently at a pub in Germany with a group of native English speakers (I am a native German speaker) and we encountered the phrase "melted onions" on the menu. "Beef steak with melted onions and vegetables" to be precise.

So essentially everyone thought that this was a wrong translation from the German "geschmolzene Zwiebeln". Only I thought that I had seen the term in English menus before.

Now I looked it up on the internet and can't seem to find a clear conclusion.

  1. There seem to be quite a few recipe websites that use the term, some with the variation "melting onions":

There are some sources here (e.g. NYT), that I would consider quite reliable, but I am not sure if recipe sites ever are.

  1. The dictionary entries I kind find don't seem to be worth much

So is "melted onions" a term that is actually used by native English speakers? Is it maybe common only in a part of the English speaking world? (AE?, BE?, Australian English?)

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    Whether it's 'correct' depends on the question being asked, but what you're describing sounds like caramelised or sautéed onions. – Lawrence Jan 14 '18 at 8:54
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    'Melted onions' is just a shorthand way of saying 'onions, gently cooked until they soften and collapse into a heap'. The onions don't 'melt', so in that sense the term isn't technically accurate, but it is descriptive and I'd have no problem understanding the phrase on a menu. – Kiloran_speaking Jan 14 '18 at 9:22
  • So essentially everyone thought that this was a wrong translation from the German "geschmolzene Zwiebeln". What would be in your opinion the more accurate translation/description? I've not heard the term "melted onions" before, it is easy to understand but I suspect that it is NOT a term used by professional cooks or chefs. – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 '18 at 10:57
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    I don't see how this question is unclear or POB. The last sentence asks specifically about local or dialetic use, which it seems to be. – Tom Au Jan 14 '18 at 17:39
  • @TomAu - there are many recipes which cite “melted onions” available on the web. Why do you think it is dialectal usage? . google.it/… – user 66974 Jan 14 '18 at 18:03
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Despite its odd appearance at first glance, there are numerous instances online, including several citations in literature, which confirm melted onions' status as a side dish, a culinary equivalent of caramelized onions.

I was obliged to limit the search to "steak with melted onions" because the German dish, as described by the OP, was steak and geschmolzene (melted) Zwiebeln (onions).

According to Google Ngrams, the following phrases are more commonly seen in print: softened onions (blue line), browned onions (red line), sauteed onions (green line), and caramelized onions (orange line); the expression, "melted onions", albeit easily understood, fails to make any mark.

Ngram chart

Predictably, the British English corpus fails to register "melted onions" but also, surprisingly, "softened onions". I included the British spelling caramelised to see what the results would be like.

BrEnglish corpus results

In Google books

  1. "steak with caramelized onions" yielded 1,080 results
  2. "steak with fried onions", 435 results
  3. "steak with sauteed onions", 112 results

However, over the years, I have learned to take Google's search results with a large pinch of salt. It is distinctly possible that these numbers will be significantly different in the near future, if or when Google succeeds in fixing their data that produces these estimated number of results.

The dish, steak with melted onions, produces 112 results but unfortunately, the only excerpt visible is from the recipe book, In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France. (link)

— {STEAK AUX OIGNONS CONFITS} STEAK WITH MELTED ONIONS

I love to quickly sear flank steak for this recipe, which is so simple you'll do it with your eyes closed. Use the steak of your choice, though, and adjust the cooking time accordingly. As for the onions, you'll fall quickly, deeply in love. …

Finally, online we have:

  • Peppercorn-Crusted Steak with Melted Onions and Mushrooms (USA)
  • Marinated Steak with Melted Onions (Canada)
  • Swabian sirloin steak with melted onions, cabbage and homemade Spätzle (Germany)
  • Sirloin steak with gravy, melted onions and pan fried potatoes or swabian noodles (Germany)
  • "I've had amazing cheese steaks, and I've had crappy cheese steaks. This one was somewhere in-between. The roll it was served in was OK. The steak with melted onions and cheese, was again OK." (N.Carolina, USA)
  • Marinated Grilled Steak with Melted Onions (Canada)
  • Grilled Beef Steak Sandwich with Melted Onions (Canada)
  • Salt & Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon
    Melted Onions, Roaring 40’s Blue, Potato Parsnip Puree (Connecticut, USA)

Last but not least, the renowned British food and cookery author Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall includes the recipe of the following dish:

  • Gurnard with melted onions and black olives
  • +1 this is great! So I guess the answer is that melted onions is a pretty unusual term. Funny that it's in NYT recipes anyways, but I guess cooks can get a bit too fond of their food at the expense of language ;) – Wolpertinger Jan 14 '18 at 20:20
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    @Wolpertinger I've just added a bit more detail. It seems that "melted onions" is an easier synonym to spell :) – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 '18 at 20:23
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The above description of a steak dish called Philly Cheese Steak omits a third ingredient with "steak and onions," which is "cheese."

It is the cheese that is melted, not the onions. So the description of the dish should be steak, melted cheese, and onions.

But "steak and melted onions" was just a (sloppy) shorthand for the above.

  • What about the linked examples cited by the OP? is it always cheese the missing ingredient? – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 '18 at 17:31
  • @Mari-LouA" I added my own link to Philly cheese steak. I believe that the other answerer's reference to "liver" is wrong in this context. "Cheese" is also the best way to explain "melted" (cheese melts, onions don't). The other answerer's "patty melt" also has cheese, but s/he didn't mention this. – Tom Au Jan 14 '18 at 17:42
  • @TomAu thanks for your answer, but in the recipes I linked there is no cheese contained, so that does not seem to be the explanation in all cases. – Wolpertinger Jan 14 '18 at 17:47
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    chefkoch.de/rezepte/2529701396450365/… see link – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 '18 at 17:48
  • @Wolpertinger: The recipes you linked do not have "steak" in them. The "steak" (or even beef patty melt) recipes I know do have cheese in them. "Philly cheese steak" (with onions) is about as American as "beer and bratwurst" is German. – Tom Au Jan 14 '18 at 17:51
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It's a weak translation from the traditional (and very similar) Smothered Onions recipe.

I was taught that most liver is served with “smothered onions.” To smother an onion, first saute an onion in a small amount of fat to dissipate the harsh sulfur taste and unveil a more subtle, almost sweet flavor. Then, cover and cook for five minutes, or until the onion is unresisting and palatable. Voila! Smothered onions.

Source: The New York Times

Or it could be a translation of Patty Melt, another very similar dish. Patty Melt is a chopped beef patty served with sauteed onions on top.

Source: Wikipedia

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