Fine Food

Let's talk about onions!

These wonderful plants are essential in many dishes and many styles of cooking, yet are much misunderstood, and often mistreated.There are a few basic facts about this lily that will transform your cooking. There has been much talk and revenue expended on sex education; my own view is that we need more onion education in society. People often work out the sex for themselves, but continue to abuse the onions with impunity.

Here is a translated extract from a technical text on the Onion by the great Franch chef Oedipus Interruptus (see also his video below):

"....Now, even if we can harden our hearts against the acrid tears of the scorched orphan miscuts who perish on the outskirts of the pan, surely must we realise, eventually, that in their very neglect do we threaten the wellbeing of all mankind.

He talks long, you may be thinking, but think on. Onions make us cry because we bruise them with our knives; they release toxic sulphurous gases in their own protection. The amount of sulphur in them is in direct proportion to the nutritional benefits they provide. The more noxious they are, the better they are for us. How sweet is the irony of human intercourse with the onion!

And how sweet the onion can indeed become, if only cooked long and slow enough, till she become transparent, soft, and clear of her sulphur frown. Then she will give our pale dishes a honeyed and nutritious depth of flavour; and if we carefully caramelise her, once clear, how rich and savoury may our dark stews emerge! All is possible, if only care is taken.

But should we carelessly and randomly cut our onion, so her fragments are irregular, then we will likely curtail her cooking, as the small and weak begin to burn, and our onion will retain much acidity, with deleterious effect upon the cooking process of her companion ingredients, as upon our own fragile digestive tract!..."

And he continues in this vein, for many pages. I summarise his findings below, in Modern English:

Here are some useful links. First, Holly Cole being her lovely Onion Girl.

Least, but not last, two contrasting opinions on the way to dice an onion (The Jury is still out on whether the horizontal cuts are necessary!)
Gordon Ramsay and ChefJeanPierre

And finally, the poem Onion Song by the great Oedipus Interruptus. They call him the Jazz Cook.