An onion is a versatile ingredient that enhances the flavor of recipes. If you’ve ever hesitated to use onions at home, hesitate no more! Whether you’ve avoided them because they make you cry or because you just don’t know where to start when taking a knife to an onion, you won’t have any fears of the vegetable any longer! In this article we’ll cover the parts of an onion you’ll eat and discard, how to prepare an onion so that it won’t make you cry when you cut it, and various ways to cut an onion to suit your recipe!
If you haven’t already, I’d recommend starting with these articles to get some more information!
Basic Knife Skills: Learn how to hold a knife properly and which knife to use.
Focus on Food – Onions: Learn about the kinds of onions and how to use them in recipes.
How to Avoid Crying when Cutting an Onion
There are several methods to avoid crying when cutting an onion. Some insist that just cutting an onion a certain way will prevent the tears – but my eyeballs disagree with that! While it certainly helps, here’s what I do to keep the tears at bay: Stick them in the fridge!
Yep, cooling an onion for about 30 minutes prior to cutting will help to reduce the amount of chemical irritant that escapes when cut. The chemical is released and then gets into our eyes and irritates our tear ducts, making you cry! So don’t blame the onion – blame the chemical! (The name of that chemical is syn-propanethial-S-oxide, by the way.)
To help a bit further with the tears, run a fan and chop the root part of the onion last. That’s where the chemical is most concentrated! You can also douse the cut onion in water right away to reduce the amount of chemical released into the air, but then you’ve got a wet, slippery onion, which could lead to slipping knives!
How to Prep an Onion for Cutting
A bulb onion has three basic parts – the skin, the fleshy layers, and the root. You’ll want to start by peeling away the skin. It’s best to do this by chopping off the top part where the skin gathers, leaving a nice, flat top. Peel the papery skin away and discard. (Sometimes the skin is really hard to peel! Just pull away the first layer of flesh with it!)
You’ve now got a fleshy, layered bulb with a fuzzy root end. Depending on what type of cut you’re looking for, you will either slice here (to get full circles), or slice the onion in half, cutting straight through the root and providing two half-moon shaped sides.
Let’s start cutting!
How to Cut an Onion – Various Methods
Onions can be cut a variety of different ways to suit your recipes. If you’re using onions for a sandwich, sliced onions will do better to stay on the sandwich that chopped! As well, you don’t want whole slices of onion in a salsa! Learn the most efficient way to cut onions without cutting your fingers!
Adam from Adam’s Eats has a great video demonstrating these methods. He’s really good at showing how to hold the onion to keep your fingers safe, and which direction to cut to get different sizes…I highly recommend checking out the video, and once you’re done, his OTHER videos! Adam has GREAT recipes that are easy for beginners! Click here to check out Adam’s YouTube channel, Adam’s Eats.
If you’re looking for full circles, like for onion rings or sandwiches, slice the onion as thick or thin as you desire directly after peeling the skin away. Then, you can pop out the layers for different sized circles!
For half circles or strips, cut the onion in half through the root, and then slice. You can even make cuts through the root again before slicing for 1/4 circles, which are basically just strips at that point. The layers will just need to be separated after they are cut free!
If larger sized chunks are your game, roughly chopping an onion will do! I always think of stews. The nice thing about roughly chopping an onion is that the shape doesn’t have to be perfect, so just a few cuts will do the trick.
Dicing is cutting into small cubes, which could be confusing to do on a layered spherical vegetable! Don’t worry – I’ve got the best way to do it. Cut the onion in half through the root so you have two half-moon shapes. Place the flat edge on your cutting board for steadiness. Starting close to the root (but not touching the very edge), cut straight down into the onion until your knife meets the cutting board. Repeat this cut all the way across the onion, leaving the root in tact to hold all of your onion “fingers” together.
Next, press the “fingers” together so they resemble the uncut onion. Place your palm flat on the top of the onion, making sure to keep any fingers out of the way (pinky up!) Turn your knife so that it’s parallel to your cutting board and slice inward almost all the way to the end (leaving the root in tact). You can do this once or twice, depending on the size of the onion and the size you want your dices.
Finally, cut all the way through making cuts perpendicular to the first cuts you made. You’re shortening the “fingers” attached to the root, and falling away and perfectly little diced chunks!
For even smaller chunks, like you may want in salsa, dice the onion like above, but with closer cuts. The dices that fall away will be smaller, and from there you can use a rocking chop to mince them even smaller.
Put it to use!
Now that you’re familiar with cutting an onion (and how to avoid crying!), why not use them in a recipe or two? Here are some recipes to get you started: