Nearly everyone wants the secret to preventing the tears that spring to your eyes when chopping a strong onion. Ideas range from the folksy (clamp a wooden spoon between your teeth) to the somewhat scientific (freeze the onions briefly to slow enzymes) to the pragmatic (wear swimming goggles) to the foolish (keep your eyes closed).
Since most of the tear-inducing sulfuric compounds are concentrated near the roots, trimming the stem end first, peeling downward and cutting the root end last may help delay the onset of tears. The easiest preventives are to use your sharpest knife, avoid touching your face with oniony fingers and work as quickly as you possibly can.
Slicing an Onion or Shallot
- Peel the onion.
- Slice a small piece from the onion's side to create a flat surface.
- Place the onion, flat side down, on a cutting board and proceed to slice it, keeping fingertips safely clear of the blade.
Chopping an Onion or Shallot
- Cut the onion in half lengthwise from stem to root end, then peel it.
- Put an onion half, flat side down, on a cutting board, holding the stem end with your fingertips safely curled under and away from the blade. With the knife tip pointed toward the stem end, make a series of parallel vertical cuts through the onion half, at right angles to the cutting board. Do not cut all the way through the stem end.
- Turn your knife so it is parallel with the cutting board and perpendicular to the first series of cuts, and make a series of horizontal cuts in the onion half, not cutting through the stem end.
- To chop the onion, slice it across the first cuts made in step 2.
Peeling Pearl and Boiling Onions
- Bring a large pot of water to a full boil.
- Put the onions in the boiling water. Cook for 1 minute, counting from when the water returns to a boil.
- Drain the onions in a colander, then rinse under cold running water, tossing continuously, until cool.
- Using a sharp paring knife, trim the root and stem ends of each onion.
- Pinch the onions to remove their skins.
- To shorten the cooking time, ensure even cooking and help keep the layers from telescoping, you can shallowly cut an X in each pearl onion's root end.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)