Onions, this simple unglamorous vegetable is my secret weapon in the kitchen. I use them in practically every dish that I make; from soups and sauces to main course meats and fishes, side dishes, and even the occasional savory dessert. Onions rule my kitchen and for a home cook chef who wants to make dishes that will earn raves, knowing your onion and what it can do for your food, is key!
An Onion is an onion right? Well NO my fellow at-home gourmets – sorry to tell you that’s not so.
There are many varieties of onions, from sweet Vidalia to sharp reds, yellow and whites, to mild leeks, chives, shallots and green scallions. All of these varieties when paired with other ingredients and spices ultimately gives your dish the heart of your flavor. Without the use of the onion, there is really no other way to achieve that supporting flavor element that is crucial to the success of your dish.
In my kitchen I cannot even fathom what life would be like without my favorite ingredient the onion. I have eaten them raw like an apple (my grandmother’s favorite way since her childhood), cooked, fried, dried and roasted.
Here is one of My favorite ways to eat onions, sauteed and ontop of salad and chicken. –
Fried Onions Chicken Salad
If you are a fan of sweet fried onions, nothing tastes as good as eating them hot over a great piece of grilled chicken. I sometimes throw this combination over some lettuce with a little honey mustard dressing for a terrific salad that I can serve on Shabbos or for any day lunch.
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced thin strips
1.5 tbsp. olive oil
1 romaine head, diced
1 large carrot, thinly shaved using a vegetable peeler
2 pieces of grilled chicken breast, diced into bite size cubes
¼ cup mayo
¼ cup honey mustard
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ginger powder
In a large frying pan, sauté your onions until they have caramelized. Remove and drain on paper towels. Place the chopped lettuce onto your serving platter and add the shaved pieces of carrots. Place in the center of your lettuce, the chopped chicken, and then add a heaping pile of your caramelized onions. Mix your dressing ingredients together well and drizzle over salad.
One of the questions I get asked the most is which onion is the best to use for cooking? It’s a little more complicated than a one word answer –So following is my guide to the different varieties, their flavors and when to use them in your food;
Yellow Onion -
The most common type of onion, yellow onions have a brown skin and white flesh. Often known as brown onions in Britain, yellow onions have a very sharp flavor and are used for a variety of recipes.
White (Sweet) Onions – have a thinner, lighter color skin than regular yellow onions. Look for ones that are light golden brown in color with a shiny tissue-thin skin and are hard and firm to the touch. Vidalia, Walla Walla, and Imperial are the most commonly used sweet onions. The number one onion used in most recipes -used for frying and sautéing, for meats , sauces and soups.
Red Onion -
Also known as purple onions, this variety has a purplish red skin and white flesh tinged with purple. Red onions are mild too sweet in flavor and grow quite big. They are often eaten raw in salads but they can be cooked and added to other recipes. The flesh loses its purplish color when the onion is cooked.
Green onions are more versatile than you might think and they are more than a simple salad garnish. They have a similar flavor to yellow onions but their small shape makes them attractive in clear dishes. Both the bulb and green stem of the green onion can be used in recipes. Varieties like scallions, leeks, and chives are the most common.
Buying & Storing Onions
Choosing the Best onion is the first step to preparing a great meal. Choose those that are heavy for their size and are sporting dry and papery skin. Make sure that the onion shows no sign of spotting or moistness or any growths or sprouts. Onions should have absolutely no smell, if they do then they are probably old and bruised under the skin and are not something you want to use in your dish.
The best way to store your onions are in a dark cool space. Take them out of the plastic bag and throw them into a bin. Cut onions should be stored sealed in a plastic bag and refrigerated. The Best thing to do when you need just half of an onion, is to not peel the whole onion, but cut off the half that you need, and store the other half, skin included tightly in plastic wrap in the fridge. An onion with its skin on lasts longer than when peeled. Onions can be frozen, but beware they lose their texture and maintain water and when used, can make your dish a little wetter than desired.
Tip: A great way to store onions is in old pantyhose. Take a leg from an old pair, drop an onion into the foot and tie a knot and repeat as necessary. Hang in a closet or in the garage. When you need one, just cut above the knot when ready to use.
How to cut dice an onion:
Make sure you have a sharp knife
Position your cutting board firmly on the counter.
With skin on, cut off both ends of the onion
Cut in half , and use your fingers to peel off the first outer layer of skin
Lay one half cut side down vertical on your board and using one hand to hold the onion half together, slice into long strips about ¼ inch space in between each slice.
Turn the onion horizontal and cut the slices again, creating small perfectly diced pieces
Onion Breath and Getting rid of the tears
Chew gum while cutting because the movement helps block the acid that causes tears released by the onion. Or light a candle, the flame attracts the gas and leaves you tear free.
Best way to get rid of onion breath is to chew on a fresh sprig of parsley.