Kitchen Basics: Onions

October 10, 2011

In her bi-weekly column, Kitchen BasicsSusan 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.

onions

- Susan

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.

peeling onion susan pachikara

Place either end on a cutting board and slice the onion in half. (This makes it easier to remove the skin.)

cutting onion susan pachikara

Pull off the skin. 

peel onion susan pachikara

To slice:

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.

cutting out onion core susan pachikara

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. 

slicing onion susan pachikara

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. 

rough chop onion susan pachikara

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. 

rough chop onion susan pachikara

To dice: 

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.

dice onion susan pachikara

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.

dicing onion susan pachikara

Rotate the onion 90 degrees. Again, hold the knife perpendicular to the cutting board and slice across the onion to produce small cubes.

diced onion susan pachikara

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. 

susan cardamom kitchen

8 Comments Add a Comment
  • Missing_avatar

    Mary C says: As a novice cook, I enjoy reading your column. And I practice what you teach. I like your photos also. Thanks Susan!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Elm

    adamben says: what about scallions?

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: A milder member of the onion family, scallion are lovely raw or cooked. To prep them, begin by cutting off the roots (which look like white threads). To slice them, hold the stalk in one hand and slice across it forming rings. If you want to get fancy, make your slices diagonal. To mince scallions, hold the stalk in one hand. Position your knife parallel to the cutting board and slice up the stalk, creating two halves. Lay one half on the cutting board, cut side down. Follow the steps outlined above for dicing an onion. Be sure to watch your fingers.

    over 2 years ago
  • Missing_avatar

    IvyM says: HI Susan, Question for you, when should one use regular yellow onions and alternatively, red onions? I have never seen my mom use red onions in cooking, is it best used in its raw form? Best, Ivy

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Ivy, many people like to throw red onions in salad to add color. Purple onions tend to be strong-flavored like yellow onions. Sweet onions (which have pale yellow skin) have a lower sulfur content and a milder taste. If you’re sensitive to the bite of raw onions, sweet onions are your best bet. You can also chill yellow, red or white onions in ice water for half an hour to take off some of the edge. Red onions are wonderful grilled or roasted, but turn an unsightly slug-like color when sautéed.

    over 2 years ago
  • Missing_avatar

    Annette says: This is an easier way to chop onions! I tried it out tonight while making enchiladas! I've always sliced onions whole, initially forming rings, instead of slicing in half first. By slicing it in half, the flat surface keeps the onion steady on the cutting board for optimal chopping.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: So glad this information is helpful, Annette! I've got to say it's one of the most useful things I learned in culinary school!

    over 2 years ago
  • Missing_avatar

    chutney says: Once again, your photos are so helpful so that I can practice simple moves in the kitchen!!! Never heard the bit about glasses but when someone first tipped me on refrigerating the onions before cutting I thought it was a miracle. No more weepy eyes. I find that it works even in less time. (I'm impatient!). Looking forward to the next post, Susan. Thanks a million.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Thank you!

    over 2 years ago

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