The Right Way to Chop Onions, No Matter How You’re Using Them
How to break down onions quickly and keep crying to a minimum.
Onions are in almost every type of savory cooking. But chopping them is usually the prep work that we want to hand off to someone else. I do not love cutting onions, as I am particularly susceptible to the gasses that make you cry, and I hate the smell on my hands. So, I have learned how to break down onions quickly and efficiently so that I can get on to other more enjoyable tasks. Here are my best tips for cutting up onions for any application.
Choose your onion
Onions come in all sorts of sizes and colors. With the exception of Vidalia or sweet onions, which are extra sweet, white, yellow, and red onions are pretty interchangeable from a culinary perspective. Choose onions that are solid and hard like baseballs, don’t have soft or mushy spots, and have a taut outer skin. They should feel heavy for their size and should not have any green sprouts coming out of the top.
Prep your onion
Remove the top half-inch or so of your onion. If you are making rounds, peel the outer layer of skin back to the root end, but do not remove. Leaving this attached helps give a little handle to hold the onion while you cut.
If you are going to be making half-moons, slices, or diced onion, you can cut the onion in half through the center of the root end, being sure that each half retains half of the root to hold the onion layers together. Then you can peel back the outer skin and again, leave it attached.
Get the recipe: French Onion Soup
If you are doing round slices for topping sandwiches or burgers or making onion rings, simply slice across into whatever thickness you prefer. Then you can leave the rounds together or break them into rings. If you are doing half-moon or smaller slices, you can cut the halved onion lengthwise from the root end into half or wedges and then slice across into whatever thickness you like. Cutting across the grain like this makes for onions that are more tender in cooking, and easier to chew when raw. For places where you want your onions to stay together a bit more, as for caramelized onions or grilled onion strips for fajitas and the like, you want to cut onions with the grain which will help them retain more structural integrity. For these types of slices, remove the root end, and cut lengthwise into strips the width you want following the natural ribbing of the onion.
Get the recipe: Steak Fajitas
There are two methods for dicing onions, the classic method and the new sunburst method. I use the latter, but you pick the one you like best.
The classic method is when you take your halved, peeled onion and place the flat side on your board and cut first lengthwise into whatever width you want your dice, without cutting through the root so that the onion holds together. Then placing your hand flat on top, and your knife totally parallel to your board, you make a few cuts from the face end towards the root, again stopping short of the root end, to make a grid pattern. Then you slice down across the grain to separate into dice whatever size you need.
I am always afraid of slicing through the end of the onion and into my hand when I do this, so I use the sunburst method. I cut my onion on an angle following the natural ribs in thin wedge shapes towards the center, so that when I am done, the end looks like a sunburst. Then I can just slice down across the grain into my dice. This eliminates a step. You do whichever makes the most sense to you.
Get the recipe: Chicken Fried Rice
To hollow out whole onions for stuffing, cut the top off, and make the root end flat, but keep as much of the root still intact as possible. Using a small paring knife and starting after the second or third layer of onion depending how thick you want the walls to be, make a series of small cuts in the center of the onion. Then, using a metal spoon, go around the inside and scrape out the onion pieces to make a hollowed-out onion. I often leave the peel on for this to help hold things together and then remove before cooking.
Get the recipe: Stuffing-Stuffed Onions
If you are going to try and recreate this snack at home, begin by prepping the onion as for stuffing. Then slice the onion in a flower pattern down from the end towards the root but stopping a half-inch before the root end.