How to Prepare Onions





Introduction: How to Prepare Onions

About: I'm an experimentalist, a scientist and I have a tendency to do things just for the sake of doing them, or to find out what they're like. I love life, show me something I can feel good about. I've got an ...

I've seen several people make a mess of cutting onions, and suffer from their lachrymatory effects. Why do people make and buy vegetable choppers? - Because a lot of people don't know how to cut them properly.

Cutting veg' needn't be difficult, it can be easy.

You need a good sharp knife.
It's worth having even only one knife with a decent stiff blade that can be resharpened. I found a Sabatier 3-pack on a market for 15 pounds (bargain!) I won't claim that Sabatier are the best, but they're good enough. If your knife isn't sharp you'll have trouble using it. Blunt knives are for spreading butter and such, not vegetable preparation.
(If you watch the videos, with their cheesy-tunes, notice how easily the knife goes through the onions - little force needed)

You also need a good solid surface to work on, I'm sure you know what a chopping board looks like, mine is made of wood.

If you have the option, choose onions which are hard / firm, softness is not good in onions.
Good onions should have little or no smell (before you peel them) - if they smell, they're not good.
Also check for visible signs of damage, if stored properly, onions should be dry on the outside and free from mould.

(I was a bit shaky due to illness, but I managed not to slice myself)

Step 1: Peeling

Pull off the outer layers, the brown papery bits.
Look at what you have underneath, if it's still brown, or yellow, dried, tough, soggy, mouldy - keep peeling.
Peel the onions down to firm white flesh, which is thick and juicy-looking. If you've picked good onions you shouldn't have a lot of peeling to do.

Cut the top off back to where the onion looks good to eat (as above)

Cut the root base off flush to the rest of the onion, but no more. Don't take a slice off the bottom, because this bit will hold the rest together while you're cutting it.

In the video you see me cutting towards my thumb. Notice that this is a one handed action, I cannot put much force on the knife and I have a lot of control over the blade. It's hard to cut yourself in this way.

Step 2: Cutting Dice

It's all in the video.

Place the peeled onion on a chopping board, bottom down, top up.
Cut down, in a series of parallel slices, but don't cut all the way through.
This is where you'll appreciate not having sliced the bottom off.
Rotate the onion 90o and cut in half down the middle.
If you want finer dice make a second set of parallel slices before cutting in half.

Place the halves flat side down on the board and cut from top to bottom (as the onion goes), which will be left to right or vice versa depending upon your handedness.
As you near the root of the onion you'll find it difficult to cut due to the bulb's curvature - don't struggle with it, flip the remaining onion onto it's largest side.
Discard the root base (or put it in a stock pot)

In this video you see my knife coming very close to my fingers - it's my fingernails that are closest, should I misplace the blade they'll protect me enough - sharp knife = gentle pressure (and I haven't done that for years) Again, it's good control and a good knife that makes this work.

Step 3: Cutting Slices

For vertical slices, which will give you short strips:

Place the peeled onion on a chopping board, bottom down, top up.
Cut in half down the middle.

Place the halves flat side down on the board and cut from the outside-in.
When you've got nearly halfway through, cut downwards, but not through the root base (this is holding things together)
Slice the other side as you did the first, then cut the root base off, discard it (or put it in a stock pot)

For horizontal slices, which will give you half rings:

Place the peeled onion on a chopping board, bottom down, top up.
Cut in half down the middle.

Place the halves flat side down on the board and cut slices from top to bottom (as the onion goes), which will be left to right or vice versa depending upon your handedness.
(As step 2)

Step 4: Credits

Peeling video is dubbed with Ronnie Hazlehurst's theme tune to The Two Ronnies TV show (that would make him the third Ronnie I guess)

Dicing video is the theme tune to the weak sit-com "Terry and June", I can't attribute this to a writer.

Slicing video is "Mr Soft" - Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel a live recording at the BBC (somewhere)

Having endured 3 minutes of Yackety Sax while researching this, I put a bit of thought into the tunes...




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    16 Discussions

     I usually just dice the ontions, or cut them vertcally. 

    I don't caramelize onions, I sexify them.=, what great camp memories...

    2 replies

     Yeah, so, the only person who could cook, and subsequently kept us all from dieng, talked about sexifing the onions, and thus the phrase is now used by me.

    To peel an onion, I find it easier if you partially cut through the top; then turn the onion 180 degrees and partially cur thru the root end. This way when you tear either end first you will not have to go through the machinations of removing the small pieces of parchment skin. With some practice you will be able to peel the onion with two actions.

    Nicely done. I also learned that cutting the root end before the rest of the onion releases MORE of the tear-causing chemicals into the air! Once I started leaving that end on and just slicing the onion, it got better. It also helps to be slicing the onion next to a running tap. The water doesn't have to be on hard, just running. The water attracts the chemicals and bonds with them, keeping them from the eyes as well. I know this works, as it used to be my husband's job to cut onions. I simply could NOT deal with them! But now I'm cutting them with no problem!

    1 reply

    Yes, sounds completely credible. I'm one of those people who doesn't hang about and doesn't complain if my eyes do sting...


    On one of the popular food shows, they proved that putting the onions in the fridge first, reduced the crying and tears. I've always put my onions in the fridge and I've never had a problem. This show also talked about why onions make you cry. When you cut an onion it releases chemicals, when those chemicals mix with your tears, it makes sulfuric acid. If you use a sharp knife, then fewer onion cells are cut and therefore less chemicals are released. No wonder onions make you cry!! Sulfuric acid in your eyes sounds like torture!!

    1 reply

    Ronnie, you were truly the master of cheese. These are skills that I really need to go and practice, impressed me anyways. Cheers for the 'ibble

    Oh, you are too much. Nice musical break downs. I have an assistant do my dicing.:)

    When cooking in large quantity (and thus going for speed in preparation), I usually top and tail the onions first, then cut them in half top-to-bottom, then remove the outer peels. It all works - just depends on how fast you need to go, and how your assembly line techniques work.

    3 replies

    I do that all the time now because I find it much easier. I also feel like I lose less of the onion-y goodness that way.

    Yes, I see how that would work, thanks. I think that a lot of these things are habit, L

    A trick my Mother taught me was to wash your hands in salt and warm water to remove the volatile onion oils.

    1 reply