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Let’s Talk Onions

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Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Onions!

 
All of us have treasured bits of culinary wisdom that we learned as children, often simply by watching the cooks in our family move around the kitchen. To this day, I still peel hard-cooked eggs with a spoon the way I’ve watched my mom do it, I always add a pinch of sugar to pasta sauce because that’s how my aunt did it, and when I cook rice in a pot, I measure the water with my fingers like my grandmother did.

There are so many little tricks for dealing with everyday kitchen tasks, and we’d like to hear yours. After all, our goal here at Tasty Kitchen has always been to create a community where everyone can share favorite family recipes. So why not share all those favorite family kitchen tips as well! I, for one, am excited about this because it’ll be like learning from all of your food heroes. I think that’s pretty cool.

So today, we’re kicking off our own version of a fireside chat. Except this is a two-way thing, so it’ll be more like a stovetop conversation. Warm oven banter. A hearth-to-hearth talk. (Har dee har har.)

Let’s start!

 
 
 
Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Onions!

This week’s topic is ONIONS. Specifically, chopping onions without ending up in a pool of tears crying for your mama and reaching for the bottle of onion powder instead. Of course, it helps to know how to chop an onion in the first place (thanks, Ree!). But how, pray tell, do you keep those pesky tears at bay once you’ve cut into it and unleashed the evil lurking inside?

 
 
 
Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Onions!

I’ll go first and say that my favorite trick is to ask my husband to do it for me while I go and pour myself a glass of wine. Done! Okay, but what do you do when he’s not around, you ask? When that happens, I just chop/slice/dice/mince as fast as I can, or I do it in batches, walking away from the counter periodically to breathe in fresh air and wipe my eyes. I’ve heard that lighting a candle and keeping it close by while chopping helps but I’m afraid to try it. I get so easily distracted that I might see some cool new commercial on TV, walk over to the living room, and 3 episodes of Castle later, my cutting board is on fire. Me no likey that kind of fire.

Betsy says she read once that if you keep your mouth closed while chopping, it minimizes the tears. So she always does that. She’s not sure it works but thinks there must be something to not breathing through the mouth. Nanci says she’s heard some people hold a match between their teeth but she tried it once and it didn’t seem to work for her, so she just cries.

I heard that same match trick mentioned in the movie “The Help” and I figure there must be something about the sulfur in the match head reacting with the tear-inducing gas from the onion. However, I haven’t tried it to see if it works because I never have any matches lying around. (See previous paragraph about not liking fire.)

 
 
 
Tasty Kitchen Blog: Let's Talk Onions!

Some of our contributors chimed in as well to share their tips! A few involve some kind of physical barrier protecting the eyes. Adrianna says that wearing her contact lenses yields a better overall onion-cutting experience because the contacts offer some protection from the onion’s gases. Maria says she and Josh wear ski goggles. Erica is a gal after my own heart: She asks her husband Reuben to chop them for her if it’s particularly bad (he wears contacts). That’s what Maggy does too—she’ll grab anyone in the house with contacts and make them chop.

Gaby is emphatic: “Knives! They are a must! They make cutting an onion a hundred times easier and you won’t cry.” Calli agrees. She says she’s tried many different tips, even spraying a little vinegar on the cutting board (via Alton Brown) but she chops too many onions to be bothered with using the tips on a regular basis. She swears by simply keeping her knife sharp and knowing how to cut an onion efficiently so it goes fast. If you need a very fine dice, say for meatballs or meatloaf, Laurie suggests skipping the chopping altogether and using a grater instead.

Jessica likes to stick the onion in the freezer for half an hour or so, making it easy enough to still chop but not so bad on the eyes. Faith peels the onion first and lets it soak in cold water for about 5 minutes before cutting it. Finally, Georgia includes this tip in her forthcoming book: “Some may call this an old wives’ tale but it has always helped me considerably. If your eyes tend to weep while you chop onions, put a toothpick between your teeth and clench down before chopping.”

There ya go! Those are a handful of tips to get us started. Now it’s your turn. If you have a foolproof tip that works for you, we want to hear it! Shout it out below and maybe you can help someone discover his or her new favorite onion-chopping tip. Our weepy eyes thank you in advance.

Happy cooking (and chopping), everyone!

 
 

51 Comments

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Linda S. on 10.27.2013

I also keep my onions in the vegetable bin and don’t have a problem with tears when chopping.

Mandy on 10.25.2013

Off topic but have you guys heard the urban legend (?) that onions have a ton of bacteria in them? The article I read said onions aren’t even safe to keep in the fridge once they’ve been cut, and I *ahem* do that constantly.. I’ve even been known to use the same cutting board the next day without rinsing it if all I cut was an onion.. nobody’s died yet, but I’m curious if this is just an urban legend or not. You’d think the same compound that stings your eyes might also keep some of the germs off!

Rede on 10.23.2013

I heard it’s healthy to let onions sting your eyes. Keeps them sanitized and what not. If you don’t want the sting you can always place the onions in water when you cut them. That way the vapors won’t bother you.

KarenJ on 10.23.2013

1) Make your initial cuts from top to bottom,. You cut through fewer cell walls this way , ergo less gas at the beginning of the operation. even though you’ll have to go the other way later. Still it’s less time with the greater volume of gas.

2) Get the teenagers in the house to do it! Works like a charm, they love to help and think it’s amusing when they cry. :)

3) I’m with you, get the husband! Not only has mine been a professional chef and can really cut with speed, looking up and away when he needs to, but , at 6’4″ he’s thirteen inches further up from the cutting board than I am, giving the fumes some time to disperse!

Margaret on 10.23.2013

Cut the top off the onion and only a small amount from the root end. Next cut the onion in half from top to bottom. With the halves lying cut side down on your cutting board cut lines from about a half inch from the root to the top. Then cut across these lines starting at the top of the onion and working your way toward the root. About a half inch or so from the root turn the cut side down and chop toward the center on each side. Most of the juice stays in the onion or on your cutting board, very little of it goes up in the air toward your eyes.