Onions — How Could You Cook without Them?
The ever versatile onion has to be the single most important aromatic vegetable in the chef’s larder. What is an aromatic vegetable? One that is used as a flavor base for cooking, usually by sauteing or sweateing. Onions, carrots, peppers, celery, and garlic are often used for this purpose.
There are many different types of onions, so consider what you will use them for before you buy.
- Scallions are considered a fresh onion, and should be kept UNWASHED in the refrigerate and used within a week. Commonly called green onions, the leaves are not *always* green, although the lower bulb is generally white. This white bulb can be sweet or hot, though the leaves are almost always sweet.
- Scallions are available year round and are used in salads and in cooking. When used in cooking, often only the white bulb is used, though the leaves can be added at the last minute. The leaves are a good substitute for chives.
- Choose firm scallions with bright, fresh-looking leaves. To learn a bit more about scallions, check out this page.
- Sweet onions are also fresh onions and like scallions have a limited shelf life. They should also be stored UNWASHED in the refrigerator and used within a week. Often called slicing onions, these onions have a high water and sugar content and are not hot, so they are also less likely to bring tears to your eyes while chopping.
- These onions are best used raw, though they can be used in cooking.
- There are many different types of sweet onions, and they come into season at different times of the year, depending on where the are grown. (Please see this link to learn when different types of sweet onions come into season.) Most sweet onions are white, though some are red.
- A common type of sweet onion is the Vidalia. It’s a white onion very popular in salads. Another type of sweet onion is the Bermuda. Bermudas are not ‘red’ onions, so don’t get confused on that score. Here’s a great article that might clear up any confusion.
- Red onions are used both in salads or in cooking, though some don’t like their faded grey color once they are cooked.
Choosing sweet onions is the same for all onions, look for those that feel heavy for their size and have dry skin and no obvious bruises or blemishes.
- Storage onions are good for cooking. Most are yellow in color but some are red or white. Spanish Onions and shallots are considered storage onions. (Please see this link to learn more.) Spanish onions are yellow but larger than the ‘common’ yellow onion and with a bit milder flavor, though the white onions in this category are the mildest.
- Tiny white onions (about 1″ in diameter) are called pearl onions (they are also called boiling onions and creaming onions), and are also storage onions.
- Yellow onions are the most common onion in use, about 80% of all onions used are yellow. If a recipe calls for onions, it’s hard to go wrong using yellow onions.
- When buying yellow onions, look for a heavy onion with no signs of mold or brown spots. It should have a thin outer skin, and the neck of the onion should be tightly closed.
- Storage onions should be stored in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. Don’t store them with your potatoes, the two together will cause them all to rot.
If you store your onions in the refrigerator, they could last up to 2 months. However they will pass their smell on to other foods in the refrigerator.
- More good information about onions.
Shallots and Leeks
- Shallots taste like a cross between onions and garlic. They even look a bit like garlic, with a head composed of many cloves covered in a brown skin.
- To store shallots, keep them in a cool, dry place for up to 1 month.
- If a recipe calls for 1 shallot: use 1 clove.
- Leeks are the sweetest member of the onion family and look a bit like over-grown scallions. Look for those with bright, crisp green stalks. Note the smallest leeks are the sweetest.
Leeks hide a lot of sand within their inner leaves. The best way to clean them is to chop them first, then place them in a large bowl of water . Use your hands to swish them about a bit, and then wait a few minutes so the sand and grit falls to the bottom of the bowl. Don’t strain them, as the dirt will just fall back over the leek slices. Instead, life the cleaned pieces out with a slotted spoon.
This site will tell you more about the difference between onions, shallots, and leeks.
Need to Know How to Chop an Onion?
If you need more help, refer to this video.