On a recent quest for inspiration I visited my Parisian Mecca-Of-All-Things-Food, “La Grande Epiciere” at La Bon Marche. While grazing the very large confiture section, I noticed an abundance of onion confiture. There must have been 10 or 12 varieties. Jams, jellies and other preserves are plentiful in French cooking but this seemed excessive… Onion?! Was it sweet, savory? What would I eat it on? I bought one and tried it on the most logical confiture carrier – toast. Granted, it was a gluten-free toast but this combination was unexciting and left me wondering what else I could put it on. After pulling just about everything I had out of my fridge, and incessantly dipping and combining more times than I’d care to admit, I came to the conclusion that my Onion confiture would best be eaten on goat cheese!
Onions carry the stigma of being at best a delicious thing to put on a burger and at worst an un-sexy date food. But the reality is, they are very good for your health. Anything that can prolong life, keep my skin supple and strong, and fight infection and disease is super sexy in my book! While the Onions is certainly a vegetable that gets taken for granted, it’s necessary in most cooking, enhances a wide range of foods and really is quite forgiving.
My first lesson in onion forgiveness was from Bill the Appetizer Guy when I was a line cook at Roy’s in NY. He said, “Krulak, you touch those onions one more time and I am going to cut your hair off.” What he so elegantly was trying to teach me was that, most often an onion is best left untouched. It needs time to cook, to simmer and caramelize on its own.
Contrary to myth, onions do not smell. The sulfur fumes emitted when an onion is cut create the odor and make you cry. To decrease the potency of a cut raw onion, soak the slices in cold water for at least ten minutes. This decreases the strength and “oniony” aftertaste.
How Not To Cry
We’ve heard everything! Eat bread, run water, open the window, cut backwards, sing ten Hail Marys, jump up and down – honestly, none of these work so well. But I learned two valuable tricks in cooking school from my sweet professor who tried his hardest not to yell at me every time I’d leave class to wash the streams of black mascara from my face after cutting Onions.
Trick 1: A sharp knife. One’s knife should be sharp anyway but a sharp knife will save you from tears.
Trick 2: Chill the onions. Place the Onions in the fridge for about an hour before cooking or peel them in a bowl of cool water. The cold freezes the compounds and spares you the tears.
How To Store An Onion
Store Onions at room temperature, preferably in an open basket and away from bright light. Just like Potatoes, Onions prefer dark, airy places. This keeps roots from growing. However, please do not store them WITH Potatoes, as the spuds emit an ethylene gas that makes the onions moist and therefore rot faster. Those metal retro hanging dry goods baskets were designed in layers for a reason – to keep Onions and potatoes separate and well ventilated.
Types of Onions/Choosing One Over The Other
J’adore Red Onions. There is a mystical taste and a softness that a red onion has that a white onion just doesn’t. True, there is a time and a place for everything but I do play favorites and this is one. I find Red Onions suit most everything I cook or create. As they are inherently sweet, Red Onions can easily blend with sweet or savory dishes. (The Thai tend to use a red onion in mango salsa, for example.)
When choosing which type of onion to use in a recipe, be fearless. As Bill the App man taught me so eloquently, onions are forgiving and with a little sniff, you can tell just how potent a bulb will be. But experiment: substitute shallot when a recipe calls for Spanish Onion; toss in some scallions just for kicks. Go crazy.