"Mine eyes smell onions: I shall weep anon."
—from All's Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare
There are several techniques for cutting onions. Some are single-step cuts, such as rings, some are a series of cuts as for diced onions. No matter which technique you are using, your knife must be sharp. If you crush this delicate creature, you will pay with tears. For many of the techniques I write about you must be able to distinguish between the root end and the stem end (in the picture below, the stem end is on the left). Also note the different grips employed.
Why You Cry
Onion cells contain two sections separated by a membrane; one section contains an enzyme, the other sulfur compounds. When the onion is cut. the enzyme and sulfur compounds combine to form a mild sulfuric acid. The acid reaches your tear ducts, which produce more water to dilute the irritating substance.
Cold temperatures will slow the enzymatic reaction, so try putting the onion in the refrigerator for 30 to 45 minutes before cutting it. You will also find that using a sharp knife to cut the onion can greatly reduce your tears as the cell walls are cleanly cut rather than crushed.
Fruit or Vegetable: Onions
Knife: 3-1/2-inch Paring Knife or Chef's Knife
Onions need to be peeled by removing the skin and the first, tough outer layer. If onions are to be left whole, a knife should be used to slit and remove these layers. If they have been cut in half, the fingers can be used.
1. Using a chef's knife and the high technique, slice off the stem end.
2. Curl the last three fingers around the handle of the paring knife with the blade facing the fingertips. Place the index finger underneath the heel, close to the bolster. (It is possible to use the chef's knife to remove the peel. Grip the chef's knife in the same manner.)
3. Insert the heel of the blade under the skin, clamp the thumb over the skin. lift and rotate your wrist toward you, and pull the skin toward the root following the curve of the onion. Repeat this procedure to peel the entire onion and any tough outer layers.
Mastering Knife Skills
The Essential Guide to the Most Important Tools in Your Kitchen
- by Norman Weinstein
- Photography by Mark Thomas
- Stewart, Tabori & Chang 2008
- Hardcover with jacket; US $35.00
- ISBN-10: 1584796677
- ISBN-13: 9781584796671
- Excerpt reprinted by permission.
This page created July 2008