John B. Reyna
Don’t Let Onions Make You Cry!
For this first installment of our knife series, we wanted to tackle the onion. We will walk you through three different cuts and then dishes to utilize all of those cut onions. We hope you practice these cuts and improve your ninja knife skills.
The first step is to go over the proper knife grip. While the handle seems like the logical place to grip the knife, that’s not the best place to hold. Instead, you want to place your thumb and forefinger directly on the blade just before the blade meets the handle.
Onions are the culinary workhorses of vegetables. In one form or another, they are involved in the majority of savory dishes. Here are a few onion facts to use at your next Zoom happy hour:
1. They are related to the lily.
2. There are two main classifications of onions—green onions (i.e., scallions) and dry onions.
3. Dry onions come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and flavors with the four basic being: yellow, sweet (e.g., Vidalia), white, and red.
We are showcasing the slicing, medium-large dicing, and fine dicing of onions in the videos below. To make sure those cut onions go to good use, we are providing recipes that will utilize all of those perfectly chopped and sliced onions!
First, we will slice onions and caramelized them. Second, we will cut medium dices and prepare a red onion jam. Lastly, we will cut fine dices and cook a lemon caper pan sauce.
So grab your knife and let’s get slicing and dicing!
Who doesn’t love caramelized onions? Those beautiful golden brown onions with incredible sweet flavor that comes from nothing but the onion’s natural sugar. Well, that and time, lots of time. Which is why many people just sauté onions for twenty or so minutes and call it a day. Sautéed onions are tasty, but they are not a substitute for caramelized onions. Trust us, the hour-long process is worth it.
2 large onions (I prefer one yellow onion and one sweet onion)
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of water
First, we need to slice the onions.
Here's the science talk I promised. Onion cells are longer in the pole-to-pole direction than in the orbital direction. Onions cut with an orbital slice give off a more oniony smell because more cells are ruptured and that causes more lachrymators to form, which results in you crying more. Also, orbital slices have an inferior texture when cooked than pole-to-pole slicing.
Caramelizing onions is an hour-long process, and one that you cannot rush. So why wait any longer, let’s get those onions cooking!
First, add butter to pan over medium heat. Once it's melted and sizzling, then add the onions. That's it. Well, besides the next hour of your time.
As I said above, there will be videos every ten minutes so you can see the process in its entirety without having to watch an hour-long video. The key to focus on during this stage is to continue to move the onions around so they can sweat evenly.
After 10 minutes . . .
After 20 minutes . . .
After 30 minutes . . .
After 40 minutes . . .
After 50 minutes . . .
After an hour . . .
And that's it. Easy peasy. Now put those caramelized onions to good use, like we did. Here are sous vide bratwurst that we topped with our delicious caramelized onions.
This red onion jam recipe is a great way to practice medium-large dices because it requires 4 large red onions worth of dices. That’s a lot of dicing, I know. But it’s a forgiving recipe if your onion dices aren’t perfect because the onions will cook in wine for about two hours. Still, take your time and practice making even cuts.
Red onion jam
4 large red onions
1 bottle (750 ml) red wine (zinfandel or another fruit forward wine, nothing tannic)
1 sprig of rosemary
8 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
Wrap the herbs in cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni
or use a metal tea strainer like in the video.
Here is a picture of the herbs and diced onions. Again, either wrap them in cheesecloth or use a metal tea strainer to keep the leaves from remaining in the jam.
Now the fun begins. Combine half of the wine and all of the sugar in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally.
This process takes around 2 hours, but unlike caramelized onions above, you can step away from the onions.
After ten minutes the wine should be coming to a boil.
After 20 minutes . . .
After 40 minutes . . .
After one and half hours . . .
After 2 hours and 15 minutes . . .
Here is a better picture of how reduced the jam will be when it's ready to be cooled down.
This is how the jam looks when it has been chilled overnight.
And this is how it looks when it is paired with some blue cheese and homemade bread!
Being able to pull together a flavorful sauce in less than ten minutes is a game changer. Having fine diced onions (or shallots) is one of the basic ingredients to such a sauce. Here is a recipe for a wonderful sauce that can accompany a multitude of proteins or work as a pasta sauce when you need something quick. It's light and crisp with bright aromatics and just enough butter to bring richness without clogging an artery.
As you will see in the video, there is only one step difference between this dicing technique and the medium-large dice.
Lemon caper sauce
¼ cup fine diced onion
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh oregano (marjoram or parsley would substitute)
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and roughly chopped
1 ½ cup dry, white wine
3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
We’re on the final stretch, one last dice to master—the fine dice.
One quick note before we move on to the sauce. If you need minced onion, first make this fine dice and then mince.
Now lets make the sauce.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Cook the onions until softened, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and once it is melted, add the teaspoon of flour. Stir constantly until the flour is no longer visible. Add the wine and increase the heat to high, reducing the liquid until about ¾ cup.
Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, oregano, capers, and 1 tablespoon of butter. Once the first tablespoon is melted, add the second, and then the third. Stir until all butter is melted.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over ANYTHING!!! We went with perch.
Well, that's it for our first edition of knife skills. We send you off to battle onions with a larger arsenal of skills. You can do it. There's nothing to cry about.