Onions are the workhorses of the allium family, yet some varieties are more suitable for specific uses than others. Sweet onions are great raw in salads and for making quick pickles. Hotter brown- and white-skinned onions are best for soups and stews, and for baking or roasting whole or in wedges. Red onions cook to an unappetizing grayish brown, so use them only in salads or quick-cook dishes that allow them to maintain their glorious color. Small onions are useful for cooking whole in stews and ragouts, and for pickling. Cipollini onions are small and pale yellow, and their flatness allows them to cook quickly and evenly.
- Look for onions with dry, clean, paper-thin skin, and be sure they are firm. A pound of onions equals about 3 cups sliced or 4 servings of cooked onions.
- Onions, shallots, and garlic will keep for months in a cool, dry, dark place.
- For a shortcut to peeling small onions and shallots, place them in a large bowl, cover with boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain. The skins should come off easily.
- You can freeze chopped raw onion in a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag for handy use at a moment's notice.
- When an onion is cut, it releases gases that can mix with the moisture in your eyes to form a mild sulfuric acid and cause tears (although similar gases are released when garlic, leeks, chives, and other alliums are sliced, those gases don't irritate the eyes). To avoid weeping while chopping an onion, peel and chill the onion in the refrigerator before slicing.
- Onions are among the world's most pungent foods when eaten raw. But when they're cooked a bit, they start losing some of that sharp flavor.
- When cooked to the point that their natural sugars caramelize, onions darken to a deep golden brown color and take on an interesting sweetness.
- Sometimes an onion browns quickly or exudes lots of juice when sautéed. This is due to its high sugar content―the sweeter the onion, the quicker it will brown and caramelize.
- We prefer to use yellow onions when caramelizing onions because they aren't too sweet or too pungent. But really, any type of onion―yellow, white, red, or sweet―works just fine.
Removing the Smell
- To remove the smell of onion from your hands, rub your hands with a little lemon juice. Or try rubbing your fingertips on the bowl of a stainless-steel spoon under warm running water or rubbing your hands over the stainless-steel kitchen faucet. Apparently, there is something about the ions in stainless steel that can break down the odor-causing compounds in onions.