How to Onion Properly

20 Mar

Yup.  We’re making “onion” a verb.  To onion (infinitive form), in this case, is to do things with onions.

Click “Read More” to learn about how to do things with onions!  That is, to onion.

:Edit: I thought I published this yesterday!  Aarrgh.  Here it is, though.

As far as chopping onions go, two obvious problems exist.

1. You’re supposed to cut a large, circular object into smallish pieces of equal size.
2. Onions make you cry (when you chop them up, you break the cells and release a sulfuric chemical compound that reacts with your eyes and causes watering.)

Other problems: How do you deal with the root?  Why does it take so long to chop them?  How do I properly peel an onion in this epoch, or at least before the oil scorches?

A verbal translation of how to chop an onion would not be highly useful, so instead I will provide a video from Jamie Oliver that illustrates the best possible way to cut up an onion.

Okay, so your onion is chopped.  Or diced.  Maybe sliced.  Or is it minced?  If you’ve done any cooking at all, you’ve already seen these terms, but maybe (as when I was a bit younger and not really sure what I was doing while I was cooking) you’re not intimidated, but you’re not 100% clear on how this kind of thing works, so you go with your intuition.

A brief index:

A chopped thing is a bite-size chunk.  You actually want to be able to eat what you’re cutting up–think about how big a chopped piece of carrot is.

diced thing is a little bit smaller–some people cite 1/4″ as the metric for dicing, which is fine.  It’s smaller than chopping, and an even, cubic shape.

minced thing is usually smaller than 1/8″ in size, and is usually reserved for garlic and herbs.  Mincing is the very smallest!

Slicing an onion results in a non-cross-sectional cut; that is, you aren’t going to slice up the onion one way, and then again perpendicularly to the first set of cuts.

These are the most common ways to cut an onion.

All right.  Now you know how to cut that onion into pieces.  How do you cook it?

Realistically, 90% of the time, you’ll probably saute the onion, which means that you will heat some oil, and then heat the onion in the oil.  That’s what sauteing essentially is–heating in a shallow pan, on medium-high to high heat, with added fat.  And sauteing, provided you have a pan, a stirring utensil, a heat source, and the oil plus onion, is very straightforward.  Just be sure to know the smoke points of your oils–I am sometimes a little lazy about which oils I use, so I stick to olive oil for medium-heat sauteing, and canola for high temperatures (like a stir-fry).  When oils get too hot and start to smoke, they start to lose both nutritional and taste benefits, so select your cooking oil with an eye to its purpose.

I am also going to talk about caramelizing onions!  Sweet yellow onions are perfect for caramelizing, which, through surprisingly still-poorly-understood mechanisms, breaks down the natural sugars in an onion and release a sweet flavor as the onion softens and cooks, releasing its water (and shrinking).

This takes a long period of time!  Sauteing an onion only takes about 5-7 minutes, generally speaking, whereas caramelization takes at least 30-40 minutes, preferably longer (they’re still good if you don’t have 60 minutes, but at least 30 is absolutely essential to start that sugar breakdown).  Fortunately, the process is simple!  Cook the onion in olive oil on low heat.  The end.

Here are some pictures!  I didn’t have the time to sit and caramelize these onions to their absolute final form, as I had the time limit of some recipe and the planning skills of the idiomatic goldfish, but this will give you an idea of how your onions should proceed:

1. Tossing the onion in the pan (large, rigid, mostly whitish chunks)

2. Approximate midway point (softening and coloring a little)

3. Browning nicely!

And now you have caramelized onions–a nice topping or condiment for sandwiches, rice dishes, whatever else.  Or just good by themselves–I’m almost sure a few got snatched out of the pan and eaten.

It’s funny, I used to dislike (or, maybe, think I disliked) onions until I knew how to cook them, though I’m still not a fan of raw onions–they’re too bright and not sweet enough for my taste.  You may be different!  I know lots of people like a crisp onion on their (veggie, right?) burger.  But now you know how to cut and cook them.

When I finally work up the nerve to try it, look forward to the follow-up to this post–onion rings!

p.s.: I discovered today that Funyuns aren’t vegan.  WHAT?  There’s buttermilk in them.  Jesse Pinkman would surely disapprove.  Okay, Pinkman would probably not care.  But I do.  I had plans!

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