Onions are a multi-layered, pungent, root crop that has been used by humans since at least the Bronze Age. The oldest known onion harvest dates back to around 5,000 BC, over 7,000 years ago! With such a long history, its not surprising onions are a part of the core or “basics” for many culinary traditions across the world. French “mirepoix”, Italian “soffrito”, and Cajun “holy trinity” all consider onions to be a core ingredient. Onions are one of the most versatile and ubiquitous ingredients in the culinary world!
Onions are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, and manganese. They are low in calories and contain a large number of nutrients. The sulfuric compounds in onions can cause tears when onions are cut. To cut down on the crying, chill the onion, rinse after peeling, and cut into the root end of the onion last.
Buying & Storing
Onions are often purchased in both fresh and cured forms. Fresh onions should have firm, glossy skin and should be free from discolored, soft or mushy spots. Onion leaves should be green and all inner big leaves should be largely free of any yellow or brown spots. Some small side leaves on the outside of the the leaves may be yellow or dried. There should be no smell of rot or mold. Cured onions are onions that have been carefully stored under warm, dry conditions to form a protective skin. Cured onions are not dried completely throughout but will have several layers of dried skin wrapping firm, crisp, inner layers of onion. Cured onions may have fully dried leaves or be trimmed to just the bulb. They should not have soft, mushy, or rotten smelling spots, especially around the trimmed leaves or root ends.
Before using fresh onions, carefully wash any dirt, paying special attention to the root and leaf ends. Trim green leaves for use. Cut the onion in half from the stem through the root end. Trim off any damaged, discolored, or mushy areas of the bulb. Carefully quarter, slice, chop, or dice each onion bulb in half, using the root end to hold the onion together while working. Remove the root end last. Onion leaves only can sometimes be regrown from a small section of root end. Cured onions should have any remaining stalk from the onion. If the root end is very dirty, wash it. Similar to fresh onions, cut the onion in half from the stem through the root end. Peel and remove the outer layers of dry, papery or thin skin. Trim off any damaged, discolored, or mushy areas of the bulb. Carefully quarter, slice, chop, or dice each onion half, using the root end to hold the onion together while working. Remove the root end last.
Store your fresh or cut onions in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Cut onions will last for 1 week. Whole fresh onions may last for several weeks. Cured, storage onions should be stored in a dry, well-ventilated basket, bin, or large bowl. Keel onions out of the sun and in a cool but not freezing location with some air circulation. Keep away from other root crops or fruit that might cause your onions to rot faster. Onions can easily be dehydrated for shelf stable, long term storage in an air-tight container. They can also be frozen. Clean and dice onions before spreading in a thin layer on a baking sheet. Once frozen, store in a plastic storage bag in a freezer for up to one year.
Raw – Chop or slice onions finely to add to salads (goes great with tuna, chicken/turkey, or egg salad). Use in dips; add to slaws and salsas; or top sandwiches, tacos, and more.
Roast/Grill – Thickly slice, brush with oil, place on a grill, and cook until lightly charred and soft. Quarter and place in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and herbs, roast at 350°F for 40-45 minutes, until tender and golden brown.
Sauté – Chop or slice onions. Add to heated oil in pan. Spread onions out evenly over the pan surface to cook gently, stirring occasionally. Add a little water or more oil if needed to prevent drying out or burning. Onions are finished when they are a dark golden brown. Perfect in dip or on pizza, burgers, or steak. “Deglaze” or dissolve the flavorful pan leftovers with a liquid to form the base of a sauce of soup.
Fry – Dip slices in a favorite batter and fry at 350-375° F until fully cooked.
Pickle – Stuff sterile mason jar with onion slices or blanched small “pearl” onions. Add pickling additions (try garlic, onion, red pepper and mustard seed). Fill jar with boiling pickling solution (vinegar, water, salt, and spices). Let cool. Cover and store in the refrigerator.