Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Cuisineist kitchens Slice and Dice our way through Onions. A Basic Culinary skill that is often over looked

The Cuisineist kitchens have been very busy lately. But it is always a good idea to review the basics. Cutting Onions is a basic skill that culinary students learn from day one. Many "home" Chefs should also ues the same skills and refine them every time they pick up a knife.

As Julia Child said, “It’s hard to imagine a civilization without onions.” Almost every savory dish calls for onions, and with sweet onions you can use more because they’re milder and tear-free; they’re also delicious raw. But, no matter how you use onions, they almost always need to be cut up first. Here you’ll learn the best way to cut an onion, whether you need them diced, cut in wedges, rings or strips. Follow these step-by-step directions and soon you too will be an onion-cutting pro.

No matter how you slice 'em or dice 'em onions are used in a good 30 to 40 percent of any cook's savory dish repertoire, if not more
. They are the first thing anyone who spends time in the kicthen should learn how to cut when you pick up a knife.

Getting Started :

To prep an onion, start with a very sharp chef's knife or santoku knife and a large cutting board to help prevent runaway pieces. A good bench scraper will facilitate transferring the cut onion to your prep bowl or pan.

Peel off the outer papery layers of skin by rubbing the onion firmly between your fingers until only the inner, tightly packed layers of skin remain. Peeling this tough papery layer off will help prevent your knife from slipping later on down the line.

Hold the onion steady with your non-knife and trim off the stem end by about 1/2-inch.

Lay the onion flat on its cut surface and slice it in half, using your non-knife hand to hold it steady.

Peel off the remaining skin. The first pale layer underneath the skin can often be dry and tough, so it's a good idea to remove the outermost layer as well to reveal the more tender flesh underneath.

Dicing the Onion :

  • Large Dice: Chunks 3/4 of an inch or larger are used primarily for flavoring stocks or in bouquets garnis, which will later be discarded. Large chunks can also be used for skewering and grilling, or sometimes for stir-fries.
  • Medium Dice: Onion pieces about 1/2 an inch in size are commonly used for hearty stews, soups, braises, or sauces.
  • Small Dice (mince): 1/4-inch dice are used in smoother, more refined sauces, stews, curries, or braises, in meat recipes like meatballs or meatloaf, as well as in raw preparations like salsas and some salads.
  • Brunoise: An extremely fine dice (1/8th-inch or less) that is not commonly called for. For exceptionally refined dishes, or for use in dishes where a mild, evenly distributed onion flavor is desirable, like tartares or some pâtés.

Lay the onion flat and make a series of horizontal slices, holding the top of the onion steady with the tips of your fingers. Slice nearly all the way through, but keep the root end intact so that layers remain connected. Keeping the onion close to the edge of the board in order to give your knife hand clearance will facilitate this process.

Make a series of vertical cuts with the same spacing as your horizontal cuts, again keeping the root end intact. To hold the onion, curl back the tips of the fingers on your non-knife hand, keeping your thumb behind them in order to prevent accidentally cutting your fingertips or thumb. Hold the knife blade directly against your knuckles to guide your strokes.

Once you get close to the edge of the onion, use your non-knife hand to hold the onion steady by straddling it with your thumb and fingers.

Finally, dice the onion by making a series of vertical cuts perpendicular to the ones you just made, again using the knuckles of your non-knife hand as a guide for the blade.

The spacing of your horizontal and vertical cuts determines the size of your final dice. For large dice, make cuts 3/4 to 1-inch apart. For medium, about 1/2-inch. For fine dice, make cuts 1/4-inch or smaller, and for brunoise, cut as finely as possible—a very sharp knife and a steady hand should have no problem with 1/8th-inch or even 1/16th-inch cuts.

Slicing Onions :

  • Slices (along the equator): Imagine the onion as a globe with the stem end at the north pole and the root end at the south. Onions sliced along the equator are rarely used in cooked applications. They have an uneven texture that can turn wormy or stringy when cooked. Onions cut in this manner are limited mostly to raw applications like salads or sandwiches, as well as for dishes specifically requiring a round shape, like onion rings.
  • Slices (pole-to-pole): When a recipe calls for sliced onions, this is what it is looking for. Onions sliced from pole to pole break down more evenly while cooking, producing a more even texture and flavor. Sliced thin enough and cooked long enough, onion slices will almost completely break down, adding body to soups, stews, and braises.

To cut onion rings or half rings, simply peel the onion as for dicing, then cut parallel to the equator, using your knuckles as a guide. This cut is rarely used for cooking purposes, as an onion sliced parallel to the equator displays an undesirable wormy quality after cooking. For cooking applications, it's better to slice perpendicular to the equator.

After trimming off the stem end and halving the onion, start by trimming 1/2 an inch off of the root end as well, then peeling off the outer layers.

Make a series of slices perpendicular to the equator of the onion (pole-to-pole), once again using the knuckles of your non-knife hand as a guide.

Continue slicing the entire onion. This is the cut you should use when a recipe calls for sliced onions. Onion slices cut pole to pole will break down more completely as they cook, producing a more uniform texture and flavor in the finished dish.

Onions sliced pole-to-pole (left) and onions sliced parallel to the equator.

Types of Onions :

  • Yellow onions are the kitchen workhorse. They boast a good balance of sweetness and savoriness, though they can be quite pungent, and are best for cooked applications. If there is one onion you should never be without, this is it.
  • Spanish onions are similar in flavor to yellow onions but tend to be slightly less sweet and more savory. If you plan on using them raw, cut back on their pungency by soaking them in cold water for at least 10 minutes before adding them to a recipe.
  • White onions are extremely mild in flavor and have a distinct sweetness. When caramelized, they have a flat, one-dimensional flavor that can come across as cloying. They are best used raw, or in soups.
  • Sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui, etc.) cook similarly to yellow onions, but their mild pungency and sweetness are best enjoyed raw in preparations like chopped salads, fresh salsas, or sliced for sandwiches.
  • Red onions are rarely used for cooking, as their pigment can turn an unappetizing blue with prolonged cooking, throwing off the color of your finished dish. Slightly more pungent than white or sweet onions, red onions are best used raw, or in simple, quick-cooking applications like on the grill or under the broiler.

Now that we have the skills , Lets get cooking !

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