Cutting onions can be a real pain in the… eyes. It can be made a lot easier, though, when you know the proper techniques.
For many cooking procedures, there are about a half dozen ways to go about it and get the job done, and often times there is no “right” way. When it comes to cutting onions, though, knowing how to do it can save you a lot of time and hassle. Not to mention watery eyes.
Dinner shouldn’t have to be a tear-jerker.
After my video last week on how to chiffonade basil, you guys gave me a lot of great feedback. Mostly that you loved it, and that I should do more of them… so thank you! This week I decided to try something a little different, and really play around with the filming and editing.
This post might be about “how to cut an onion,” but the real learning curve for me was “how to edit a video.” Turns out, it’s not something I’m very good at (yet), but I’m still happy to be trying new things!
One thing I found very difficult was to show the proper technique without my hands getting in the way of you seeing what I was doing. I tried a bunch of different angles, and went through every onion in the house before I got something usable. I tried to be as detailed as I could in explaining how to do it, but if you notice me not taking my own advice in terms of how to hold the onion, it’s because I’m trying to let the camera see what’s going on.
So, just to clarify, you should always curl the tips of your fingers under your knuckles when cutting! This keeps the blade a safe distance away from your fingertips, and is good practice to have no matter what you’re cutting. Got it? Okay, then.
As with last week, I’ve included both a video and photo tutorial, in case anyone has trouble viewing the video. And, as with last week, I’d love to hear your feedback! Was this helpful for you? Let me know in the comments below.
Also, anyone have any ideas for using up about eight pounds of diced onion?
In this tutorial, I’ve included some of my favorite tips for reducing the watery eyes we’re all familiar with when cutting onions. The most effective one is to wear goggles. This is especially useful if you’re cutting a large number of onions, but not always the most practical.
The other two tips are just plain good onion-cutting advice. Always keep a sharp knife, and leave the root end of the onion intact. A sharp knife will make your job easy, and minimize the amount of onion teargas that gets released. Leaving the root on helps to keep the onion together while you’re chopping, and because it has the highest concentration of enzymes, leaving it un-cut will help you keep your eyes dry.
Other tricks I’ve heard about, but never tried, include popping your onion in the freezer for a bit before cutting (freezing supposedly helps slow the release of onion teargas), cutting the onion near an open flame, such as a gas burner (presumably the flames burn off some of the eye-irritating gases before they reach you), or cutting your onion under water. As in, in your sink, not in your bathtub with a snorkel. I get the impression that using a knife under water might be a bit hazardous, though, so I don’t recommend that one.
If you know of any other tips or tricks to help make cutting onions less of a sob story, let me know!
It may be tempting to cut the onion in half across its width, but there’s just no good way to go from there… trust me, we’ve all been there.
Working with one half at a time…
This move is really popular among the pros, and some will even tell you to make 2-3 horizontal cuts. I don’t usually find this to be necessary, though, and typically get by without making any at all.
Remember not to cut through the root-end of the onion, or else the whole thing might fall apart on you!
Remember to always keep your fingers curled under, this way the blade butts up against your knuckles, and is kept well away from your fingertips. I found this very hard to show in the video, because when I held the onion properly (with my hand curled over it), it became very hard to see what I was doing.
When you start to run out of room to put your fingers, flip the root end flat onto the cutting board and cut off the excess right up to the root itself. This way you get the most out of your onion without risking finger loss.
Tada! Repeat with the second half.
And of course, the most important rule with any knife technique is to practice, practice, practice! Remember to use a sharp knife, keep the tips of your fingers curled under your knuckles, and don’t go trying to choppity-chop-chop like the pros do right off the bat… start slow, and you’ll get there!
Patience, young grasshopper.
P.S. — Did I mention I used every onion I had making this tutorial? The photo below doesn’t even do justice to the mess I made. The whole house smells like an onion, too. Any advice for how to use up some of my choppings?
What to do with chopped onion? Use them in a mirepoix. Great job on the video!
Thanks, Foodie! But what to do with all that mirepoix? I’ve got a LOT of onions!
Freeze them in half-cup to cup sized portions…….I tried it “just because” and my onions tasted great, and they were handy as all get-out with the portions already marked!!
Thanks Gail, that’s a great tip!
Freeze them, chica! That way you only need to pop them out of the freezer when you need them!
Good thinking — I have two gallon-sized baggies full sitting in my freezer now. :)
I love your blog about chopping onions, I have chopped so many onions in my life I don’t even want to think about it. Make an onion quiche, sweat them in a bit butter, add a little bacon, then make some quiche dough, fill it to the top, a little egg and cream with it, in the oven and voila, Swiss Onion Quiche, trust me everybody will love it and for a quiche of about 10 inches you will use easily 4 to 5 onions
Great idea, sounds delish!
I love that you are trying your hand at videos, Willow! I think your video-editing skills are already improving, and I hope you make more of these in the future :)
As for cutting up onions, I didn’t realize that most of the tear-yanking enzymes were in the root–I’m going to be leaving it on from now on!
To cut down on tears, after halving my onions, i soak them in cold water for a few mins which gets rid of some of that crazy milky juice that makes your eyes water. Also, I store them in the fridge if they are getting old, or just stick them in there a few hours before using (like your freezer method).
To use up those onions, make authentic curries! They usually require cooking down several cups of onions before adding in the spices and tomatoes. Here are two of my favorites… http://ahaar.blogspot.com/2008/04/kadai-chicken-curry.html and http://titlisbusykitchen.com/archives/kofta-curry
Great tips! And those curries sound fantastic — I adore curry, and it’s a great way to use up a bunch of onions. Thanks!
Great video. I’ve seen demos before of how this is supposed to be done but this is the first time I could actually follow what was happening. As for using up all those onions, some good ideas already but how about onion bhajis?
Yay, I’m glad it was helpful! Bhajis are a great idea – yum!
I’m hosting a dinner party on Friday evening, and I’m seriously considering wearing goggles throughout the entire event because you made ’em look so badass.
Why, thank you. I’m like the Lady Gaga of food prep.
So I, hater of onions, am pretty clueless when it comes to the basics. On the occasions when I do work with them, I have this cheap pair of giant Jackie O sunglasses that I wear to cut down on the eye stinging. Since it’s already dark in my kitchen, wearing sunglasses is really not the best idea! I made a zucchini sauce on Sunday that required a diced onion, and I was so psyched to try out this technique. It worked sooo much better and totally made me feel like a pro. (: LOVE the video! I can only imagine how much work it was to make that — awesome awesome awesome.
Win! Glad the technique worked well for you. And thanks! It took some time to put together, but was so worth it. Definitely something I want to get better at!
Great video Willow. My little tip for cutting out the crying is to hold an unused wooden match (wood end) between my teeth. I think it has something to do with making me breath through my nose but don’t really understand why that would make a difference. All I know is it works and haven’t cried over onions in yonks!
Great tip! Thanks!
Caramelize and freeze in smaller portions!
This video was AWESOME and the fact that you broke it down into pictures afterwards made it that much easier to follow! To avoid the tears, try chewing a minty gum! I have no idea why gum chewing works, but it does every time. :)
I see this is an older post, but I could’t resist replying… Don’t talk or breathe through your mouth while slicing. I discovered this by accident while working as a prep cook, slicing 20 lbs of onions every Thursday for French onion soup. I thought it was because I was meditating on the beauty and perfection of the onions, but it was because I was meditating, I was breathing only through my nose. Totally stopped the tearing. I’ve shared this with a lot of people over the years, and it works for a lot of people, not all. And you must keep your mouth TOTALLY shut from the first cut to last.
Also, try rubbing your cutting board with vinegar before slicing (learned this from a chef). This seems to work for most people and it won’t affect the taste of whatever you’re making. You can open your mouth with this one.
Love your blog, and the selfies are AWESOME!
Oh, thank you so much, Emma! And thanks for the tips — I’m pretty sure I always slice onions with my mouth shut, but I guess I’m one of those people it doesn’t work for. I’ll have to try the vinegar next time, I hadn’t heard that one before!