How to Chop an Onion Like a Pro
There are many dishes that call for chopped onions. Whether it’s finely- or roughly-chopped, processing onions with the use of a kitchen or chef’s knife can be quite daunting especially for the novice home cook. But like everything else in life, you can will yourself to master the essential skills needed to chop onions and other similar ingredients. And if you’re not really keen on learning the basic skills for roughly or finely chopping this kind of vegetable, then you can always invest in the best onion choppers in the market. So, let’s get started.
The knife you have to use when chopping or slicing onions should be super-sharp. If you can have it as sharp as a Samurai’s katana in that they can easily cut a block of wood with a single diagonal slash like Battosai’s famous blow, then you’ve got a really neat tool to dice and chop any ingredient.
The thing about making your knife really sharp has something to do with the uncanny ability of onions to make you cry. No, they are not sad little bulbs of vegetables. These veggies happen to contain sulfoxides. When you cut into an onion, the walls of individual onion cells convert these sulfoxides into that irritating and super-annoying gas that can sting the soft and delicate tissues of the eyes. In response, your eyes will increase their production of tears to help “wash” away this sulfoxide gas.
As such, having a really sharp knife can help minimize damaging the cell walls of onions by cutting right through them. If you use a dull knife, there is a tendency that the dull edge of the knife will be squishing the onion and not really cutting through it. This can increase the amount of sulfoxides that can be turned into gas that really sting. So as a matter of rule, when chopping or even simply slicing onions, make sure that your knife is very sharp.
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The No-More-Tears Onion
Aside from having a really sharp knife, there are a few other ways in which you can lessen the effects of onions on your eyes so you won’t get all puffed up once you’re done.
Putting your onions into the freezer can help slow down sulfoxide conversion into irritating, eye-stinging gas. You can let the onions stay in your freezer for about 10 to 15 minutes before you start chopping them. You may want to wear gloves, however, as the onion can be especially cold. But believe us, this really works.
If you don’t like freezing your onions before chopping them, you may want to think of another way you can somehow slow down the conversion of sulfoxides into a gaseous irritant.
One way to do this is by soaking the onions in a bowl of ice-cold water. You can put cold water into a bowl and then dump an entire tray of ice cubes. Soak the onions for about 10 minutes and you should be ready to slice, dice, and chop. Do take note that this method is not really as effective as having the onions in the freezer. However, it does help.
There is another method that sounds so ridiculous, but home cooks who have tried it can swear to its effectiveness. Get a piece of bread and break it into a piece that you can safely keep in your mouth, held by your teeth. The idea is to “trap” the sulfoxide gas in the spongy surface of the bread before it has the time to float and reach the eyes. It sounds absurd, but surprisingly it works.
Chopping the Onions
Now that you know how to minimize getting all teary-eyed whenever you process onions, let’s get down to the actual steps to chopping these veggies like a pro.
First, locate where the root and the top or stem is. Get your knife and cut the onion lengthwise, cutting straight from the root to the stem so you will have two perfect halves of the onion.
Get an onion half and cut away the stem. Do not cut the root. This will serve as your anchor point when you start slicing the onion. Remove the skin. Some onions have very thin skins that can be quite difficult to peel. For such onions, you can remove the first “layer” of onion flesh directly underneath the skin.
Place your onion with the cut surface on your chopping board. Position the tip of your knife near the root of the onion and push it through. Gently lower the rest of the knife so that you are cutting the onion lengthwise again. Do the same maneuver towards the side of your first cut. If you want a coarsely-chopped onion, you need to make “incisions” about ¾ inches apart. If you want finely-chopped onions, aim for finer “slices” of about ¼-inch or even thinner. Whatever you do, don’t slice or cut through the root end of the onion.
Rotate the onion some 90-degrees so that the root will be at the side and the “slices” run horizontally. Position your knife in such a way that the flat surface of the blade is facing both the ceiling and the chopping board. Cut across the onion starting from the stem and work your way towards the root. Again, mind the width of the slices. Start about ¾ inch (if roughly-chopped) or ¼-inch (if finely-chopped) from the surface of the chopping board. Work your way towards the top.
The last step involves cutting these “strands” to create your chopped onions. Position your knife like you would slice a carrot. Cut from the top of the onion all the way to the bottom at the surface of the chopping board. Start at the stem and work your way towards the root. This way, the combination of “slices” will already give small “squares” of onions that resemble chopped onions.
Chopping onions is very easy. You just need a really sharp knife and an effective way to manage the sting in your eyes.