you gotta peel her back like layers of an onion

In ALL, FOOD LOVE, RESTAURANTS by Stephanie Klein27 Comments

shallots

Deliberate care is taken when I’m manhandling the onions. This is not a euphemism. I’m actually talking about onions, not man apples. Just now I was attempting to chop three large sweet onions into a uniform dice, perfect cubes, as if they were made of sugar and offered as "lumps" for your tea. And as I attempted to peel back the papery outer layer I saw myself in an infomercial, with my eyes too wide, saying this exact sentence, "Cutting onions used to be my most dreaded task in the kitchen, but not anymore, now that there’s…" But I couldn’t finish the sentence. Because there’s nothing.

I know Sur La Table sells onion goggles, but I just don’t believe it. I’ve even tried cutting them while wearing a snorkling mask. Oh, yes, I really have. No luck. Ina (of Barefoot Contessa fame) suggested cutting them over the sink, with water running, and that too, I’m sad to declare, left me weeping. Chew gum! I’ve heard people swear. Nope. Not workin’. And I really need to stay a while when I’m working with an onion, dissatisfied with a quick-dash slop job.

I once took a Knife Skills Intensive class, where I learned about the make of knives, focused on the way a cooks knife balanced in my hand, the rock of it as it pushed forward on a wooden board. I can tell you when to use a boning knife, a Santoko, and I can spot a tomato knife in a crowd. Serated knives, for example, are to be used when you’re cutting something with an exterior harder than its interior. If the center is softer than the outside (bread, tomatoes, melons, certain cheeses), hit up the serrated knife. For apples, forget the slap-dash corer; it’s a whore. For elegant apple slices, or pears for that matter, it’s all about the pairing knife and a melon baller (to scoop out the hard center).

Knife Skills taught me to make roses out of tomatoes, ribbed cucumber cups, and of course, I learned the proper technique for cutting an onion, with the stem in tact, pulling toward me, then a fine dice. But there must be a drama-free way to dice an onion. No tears, no sting, effortless.

I know Williams-Sonoma now has the dicing mandoline (sumbitch!), but I can’t go there. I already have the Matfer Mandoline, with which I’ve had a long torrid love affair.

So as I type, my 11-cup (from way back when) food processor is sitting on the kitchen island, useless. How is it possible that even a food processor, you know, known for chopping shit, can’t actually dice? Can it? Am I missing something? Is there a blade for a food processor that will dice into perfect, neat, uniform cubes? Anyone? Anything? Fuck.

I’m now going in with a sharpened 12-inch cooks knife, ready to sob. The Chicken with Dates recipe from Savoy Restaurant in NYC is so damn worth it. As much as I bitch, oh I how I adore making dinner. So love hate love. Layers of an onion, I tell ya.

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Comments

    1. Onions don’t bug me but i did hear that popping them in the freezer for 2 mins or so before cutting them helps.

      it freezes the juice.

  1. I keep onions in the fridge.. I’ve heard that when they are kept cool, they don’t release the chemicals that make you cry as quickly or something.

  2. Try refrigerating the onions – this may not cure it, but it definitely helps.

  3. Hi,

    I’m lurker, have been for a long time, however just wanted to give you a suggestion. Peel one layer or so and soak onion in cold water, for a few minutes, works for me every time…

  4. I always thought I was immune to onions, until one time I prepared dinner in my pj’s and glasses after a long lazy day and couldn’t finish because my eyes refused to stay open from all the burning tears. I was afraid I might chop a finger off. Seems my nearsightedness and need for contacts has been sheilding my eyes from trauma for years. I guess they form a barrier to keep the fumes out. Who knew?

  5. Use the Nicer Dicer for perfectly chopped onions without any tears at all. Bliss.

  6. Yep, with contacts in, chopping an onion is nothing. Get some colored contacts for fun, and use them on oniony days!

  7. I work as a chef and contact lenses are a must! I could chop onions all day with them in, without them I’m crying before the first one is done

  8. 1. breathe through your mouth, not your nose.
    2. whenever you get slightly teary, step away and wash your hands
    3. you can do it near a lit gas burner to burn up some of the fumes

  9. Don’t refrigerate. It dims the flavor.
    I can’t even be in the kitchen when onions are being chopped, but I swear that the onion goggles really work.

  10. My contacts protect me but back when I had glasses I would burn a tall candle. Somehow the smoke cuts through the onion drama.

  11. putting a match that you have just blown out between your teeth always works for me when cutting an onion – i think something about the sulfur in the matches tricks your tear ducts.

  12. Regular swim goggles have worked really well for me since I gave up contact lenses.

  13. This is the one and only time I will ever reference a piece of “cooking advice” Rachel Ray has given. The trick to dicing onions: man up, it’s just not really that bad.

  14. Sure shot way to avoid the tears is to slice the onion in half after peeling, and letting it soak in water for ten minutes. Then it’s easy to slice and dice however you like. A technique handed down generation to generation in my family.

  15. just drink some water and keep a little bit in your mouth …while cutting them….. mouth shut… and no more tears … and yes a really sharp knive helps for sure …..greetings from a male fan from munich / germany !!

  16. a trick I learned watching Vernoica Mars (yes, random!):stick a spoon in your mouth and suck on during chopping. it actually works!

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