10 Onion Tips and Tricks

Red, white, yellow and green, onions are something I use in my kitchen practically every day.  Here are some tips and techniques that every cook should know about buying, storing and using onions:

1. When buying onions in a mesh bag, smell them first.  A strong smell indicates that one or more of the onions is spoiled.

2. At home, do not store onions in a plastic bag.  They should be kept in a cool, dark, airy place.

3.  Cold onions are less likely to make your eyes tear, so chill them before chopping or slicing.

4. Wet whole onions to make it easier to remove onions skins.

5. Grating is a good alternative to mincing onions for any dish where you want them to blend in completely, such as a meatloaf.  Remove the ends and the skin from the onion, cut it in half and grate it on a box grater or microplane.  This is a good method for garlic, too.

6.  When sauteing onions, cook them on medium low to medium heat — not high — to avoid a bitter taste.

7. While sauteing onions, add a tablespoon or two of water to the skillet to help it to cook evenly and prevent burning.

8. For caramelized onions when you want them to cook to a rich golden brown, sprinkle them with salt as they cook to help draw out the liquid.

9.  When sauteing onions and garlic for the same recipe, cook the onions first, then add the garlic and cook one minute more.  Onions need several minutes to become tender while garlic cooks quickly.

10. When serving onions raw in a salad, slice or chop them and place the pieces in ice water for 20 to 30 minutes to mellow the flavor and crisp them.   Drain and pat dry before using.

Do you have a favorite tip for cooking onions?  I’d love to hear it .


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1 Diane { 08.09.12 at 1:07 PM }

Large Spanish onions (sometimes called Bermuda onions) have all the good flavor of regular yellow onions but they never produce the bad taste in the mouth overnight that affects many people after eating onions. Also, Spanish onions aren’t excessively sweet, as Vidalias and other large onions of that type are.

2 Salvatore Fanara { 08.09.12 at 1:38 PM }

Great tips about the queen of the kitchen (direct translation from Italian), splendidly put together by a wizard of the kitchen. Thanks I’ve applied almost all of them throughout my cooking, except grating since I’ve never needed as I like my cutting board and knife and can get them at grating-like consistency that way if needed… but you’re absolutely right, grating is much faster when a recipe calls for blending onions in, like in sauces or smooth glazes. Great post! ;D

3 Michele Scicolone { 08.09.12 at 3:33 PM }

La regina della cucina! Love that. Grating won’t replace chopping, but there are times when it comes in handy.

4 Michele Scicolone { 08.09.12 at 3:39 PM }

Spanish onions are a good alternative, though because they are large, I usually count 1 large one as 2 medium yellow ones.

5 Salvatore Fanara { 08.09.12 at 4:03 PM }

Well you should like that since you are another regina della cucina 😉
I agree grating will be faster than getting the same results by chopping although when in a rush I’ll use a blender including the liquid ingredients which is often a great solution for sauces and gravies. Alternatively when the quantity is large enough can use an upright blender while ingredient simmer on a very low flame… getting hungry now! 😛

@Diane, great tip! I do like to mix vidalia in with more “aggressive” tasting onions to soften the aroma while keeping a strong flavor. Mixes work great for me even for backed/roasted potatoes. They will keep the flavor, but become more gentle overall compared to using strongly flavored onion types. Also won’t become too “sweetened” as it would happen using only vidalia and sweeter type onions.
Those are great with fresh salads (especially when using fresh fennel, but that’s me ;P), when making caramelized onions to use as condiment for baked meat or fish, as an addition to grilled radicchio to pleasantly contrast the natural bitterness of the radicchio and of course for Oignons au gratín 🙂

…Yes I still love onions although then I pay to digest them ;P

Buon appetito! 🙂

6 Ruth Fisher { 08.11.12 at 3:43 PM }

Just finishing Kathleen Flinn’s charming “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry.” Liked the tip for onions (from her Cordon Bleu chef): Using a dull knife on onions crushes the cells, releasing the volatile oils that irritate your eyes, causing them to tear up. Makes sense, non?

7 Michele Scicolone { 08.12.12 at 6:00 AM }

Mais oui! That makes excellent sense. Thanks, Ruth

8 Salvatore Fanara { 08.12.12 at 2:47 PM }

C’est vrai… like you can read elsewhere (about.com Chemistry http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryfaqs/f/onionscry.htm ):

Question: Why Do Onions Make You Cry?
Answer: Unless you’ve avoided cooking, you’ve probably cut up an onion and experienced the burning and tearing you get from the vapors. When you cut an onion, you break cells, releasing their contents. Amino acid sulfoxides form sulfenic acids. Enzymes that were kept separate now are free to mix with the sulfenic acids to produce propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound that wafts upward toward your eyes. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns, stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away.
Cooking the onion inactivates the enzyme, so while the smell of cooked onions may be strong, it doesn’t burn your eyes. Aside from wearing safety goggles or running a fan, you can keep from crying by refrigerating your onion before cutting it (slows reactions and changes the chemistry inside the onion) or by cutting the onion under water.

The sulfur-containing compounds also leave a characteristic odor on your fingers. You may be able to remove or reduce some of the smell by wiping your fingers on a stainless steel odor eater.

9 Amy { 02.09.13 at 12:14 PM }

Love these onion tips. @Diane – I just bought a ceramic knife, because keeping my steel blade sharp has been a challenge, and that has made all the difference. Now I can get through two onions before the tears start.

10 Michele Scicolone { 02.10.13 at 4:37 PM }

Thanks, Amy! I’ll have to try a ceramic knife.

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