In her bi-weekly column, Kitchen Basics, Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen demystifies essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos. Whether she's showing us how much brown sugar we're meant to "pack"(or is it cram?) into measuring cups or how to detect when our onions are properly caramelized, Susan is the nonna we never had -- until now. Now, go on and get cozy under her wing.
This week, Susan peels and slices her way to perfectly prepped onions.
Ever dependable, onions form the foundation of the soups, stir-fries, and curries that come out of my kitchen. Yellow onions are a full-flavored workhorse. Red onions add a splash of color, while white ones bring a bit of tang. Sweet onions are the mildest of the bunch and add a pleasant punch to salads.
A tip before chopping: If you hate to tear up around onions, refrigerate them for 30 minutes to reduce the amount of sulfur that’s released into the air. If you don't have an extra 30 minutes, don your glasses, or for folks with 20-20 vision, your sunglasses. It's hard to use a sharp knife when you can't see.
Guidelines for Prepping Onions
Grab a sharp knife and a cutting board, and follow these simple steps:
To remove the skin:
Cut off both ends of the onion.
Place either end on a cutting board and slice the onion in half. (This makes it easier to remove the skin.)
Pull off the skin.
Place one half of the onion face down on your cutting board. Place your hand over the stem end of the onion. Place your knife at a 45-degree angle at the root end of the onion and slice out the core.
Place your hand at the root end of the onion to hold it in place. Curl in the tips of your fingers. Hold your knife perpendicular to the cutting board and make thin slices across the onion.
To roughly chop:
Place one half of the onion face down on your cutting board with the root end intact. With the root end facing away from you, place one hand on the side of the onion. With your other hand, hold the knife perpendicular to the cutting board and, starting at the end opposite your hand, slice three-fourths of the way into the onion towards the root end, leaving the root end intact. (This keeps the onion from falling apart.) Continue slicing across the onion, leaving a half inch or so between each incision.
Turn the onion 90 degrees and slice across the onion, again leaving about a half inch between each cut. This will produce roughly chopped pieces.
Place one half of the onion face down on your cutting board with the root end intact. Place one hand at the root end. With your other hand, hold the knife parallel to the cutting board and slice three-fourths of the way through the onion, leaving the root end intact. Continue slicing the onion with the knife parallel to the cutting board, moving up and away from the cutting board. Leave a quarter inch between each incision.
Turn the onion 90 degrees so the root end faces away from you. Hold the knife perpendicular to the cutting board and slice three-fourths of the way into the onion, leaving the root end intact. Slice across the onion, leaving a quarter inch between each cut.
Rotate the onion 90 degrees. Again, hold the knife perpendicular to the cutting board and slice across the onion to produce small cubes.
For shallots: You can use the same basic technique to dice shallots. Just swap out a paring knife for your chef’s knife and follow the steps outlined above.
I’d love to hear about your adventures with onions! Do you have tips or interesting techniques? Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.
Are you new to cooking? Tell me what skills you'd like to learn and your idea could be featured in an upcoming post!
Want more basic tips from Susan? Check out her previous post: Kitchen Basics: Fresh Herbs.
All photos by Susan Pachikara.
Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest.