Friday, August 13, 2010


Onions are used in so many of our dishes. We often take them for granted and use them out of customary practice. I, for one, am a big fan of onions. Whether cooked, raw or to give an accent, onions just work. There are four major types of onions that I commonly use on an almost daily basis: the common bulb onion, the shallot, the spring onion, and the leek. Each offers a unique set of chemicals that do their job well.

Today, I will focus on the applications of onions more and name just a few key examples that rely on the onion to create one of the fundamental, but subtle, overtones.

As a solution to remove the edginess of onions, they should be cooked. If you want the most minimal amount of cooking, then blanch them for about 20 to 30 seconds and use them in salads, sandwiches and other applications when you need near-raw onions.

Onions have a natural sugar that caramelizes when heated. In the photo above, I quickly charred the cut ends of these small onions before putting them in a stockpot with other ingredients in order to give the stock a browner colour. It also seems to enhance the overall flavour of the stock.

I also like onions as a side dish to a steak. Sliced into large rings and cooked very slowly for a minimum of half an hour with some butter, with salt and pepper, this to me is a perfect dish on its own.

Leeks are also great to use. As above in this leek and taleggio pie with sprigs of fresh rosemary, the subtle sweetness and milder onion hints maintain their strength against the velvety cheese and softness of the homemade pie crust. Leeks can also be used successfully in soups and many other dishes.

Much of Western cooking uses a mirepoix, the "holy trinity" of onion, carrots and celery, as a core flavour. This is also the mix of vegetables I use under a carcass if roasting in the oven, later to be used to flavour the gravy. In this case, they hoist the ribs of beef and allow for the fat to be drained prior to incorporating the vegetables into the gravy.

When discussing onions, the topics are almost limitless, as they are such versatile root vegetables that have stood the test of time and are still as popular globally as they ever were. Also considered a healthy vegetable, the onion seems to be effective in this regard when eaten or used raw.

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