Wednesday, June 12, 2013

There's nothing to cry about!

  I consider onions one of the quintessential ingredients in any kitchen.  If my kitchen does not have onions, it is not fully stocked.  I mean onions go in just about everything save for desserts.  Did you know that they have been cultivated over 5,000 years.  Native to central Asia and Palestine, the humble onion is now grown all over the world, including China, India, Russia, Turkey and of course the US.

   When purchasing onions you should look for ones that are firm with a dry, smooth, and crisp outer skin.  They should have no visible signs of mold or sprouting and free of blemishes.  Avoid onions that have soft spots as this may be indicative of the layers underneath rotting.  Fresh onions should not really have a smell when uncut.  If they have a strong odor, that means they are getting older and starting to go bad, if they are not already bad. Essentially trust your senses.  One good thing about onions is that if you discover that some of the onion has indeed turned, you can still work around that part and salvage the rest.  Just either peel off the outer layers or scoop out the middle ones that have gone bad.

   Now to cut onion first start by cutting the onion in half.

 Next cut off the bud end but leave the root end intact.  This will help hold your onion together as you cut it.

  Now peel off the top two, maybe three layers.  You want to take off anything that feels papery since this will be tough and not very good to eat. 

The next steps can be a little tricky.  For half moons,  just cut parallel to the root end until you get close to it always hold the onion steady with the root. 

If you want to dice an onion the first cut to make after you have your halves is to cut the onion parallel to the cutting board from the cut bud side back to the root end making sure not to cut all the way through. 

Start down towards the board and work your way up making about three or four cuts depending on how big a dice you want and how big the onion you are working with is. 

The next step is to make cuts from the top of the onion down perpendicular to the root end.

 Try to make these cuts roughly about the same size as your previous cuts and once again try not to cut all the way back to the root end. 

The last cut you want to make is parallel to the root end from the top down working your way from the bud end to the root end. 

If you do this right, you will have some nicely diced onion.  

  OK, so how many of you have had the problem of teary eyes when cutting onions?  The reason this happens is because when you cut into an onion you are rupturing its cells which then release their contents.  When mixed with air, the sulfurous contents create allyl sulfate which is irritating to the eyes.  There are several easy ways to lessen, if not altogether avoid this.  First and foremost, use a very sharp knife.  A sharp knife will reduce the amount of trauma when cutting into the onion's cells, therefor reducing the amount of allyl sulfate produced.  Another way to avoid teary eyes is to cover your eyes with something like goggles or glasses.  Swimmers goggles are particularly effective.  If you don't want to look goofy while cutting your onions you can always chill them.  One hour in the refrigerator or fifteen minutes in the freezer will work well.  The chilling helps to stabilize the sulfates in the onion so that they don't mix so readily with the air to create the irritant.  Some other options are to soak it in cold water or vinegar, cut it under running water, or blanch it slightly before cutting it up.

   Onions are very versatile.  They can be eaten raw or cooked.  When they are cooked they loose the sulfurous enzymes and become sweeter, thus making them milder.  Onions are especially flavorful if they are slowly cooked in fat until they are softened.  Fresh onions keep for a good while.  Yellow onions will keep for about 2-3 months while red onions will be good for about 2-4 weeks.  Green onions will last about a week in the refrigerator.  The best way to store onions is in a cool, dry, well ventilated place.  Hanging baskets are especially good for this.  Onions should not be stored close to potatoes as they will absorb moisture causing them to rot and sprout.  Do not store onions in the refrigerator because their odor has a tendency to spread to other foods.

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