Choosing the Right Onion

Isn’t it funny to see a post here about onions, written by someone who absolutely detests them? What’s next, a post about sprouts?( I think I would rather eat an onion than a sprout but I digress…) Onions are a necessity in cooking, and love ’em or not, I use them frequently.  While many people think an onion is an onion, I beg to differ. There are fine nuances in different types of onions, and using the right one will greatly enhance your dishes.

Onions

Yellow onions are the most common. They are also the most versatile, and work well in soups and stews, roasted meats and poultry. Although these onions are astringent, they also have a high sugar content which is released during cooking. Brown them up and they get a sweet. caramelized quality that even I enjoy.

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Personally, I like to use shallots when appropriate. They are small and clove-like, and have a milder taste than some onions. They work well in sautes, vinaigrettes, and with lighter dishes such as eggs (think quiche for example) or vegetables. The flavor is more subtle, and their diminutive size prevents onion overload.

White onions are often used in Mexican cooking. They have a strong, sharp flavor and very little sweetness. Due to their high water content, they remain crisp in salsas and stir-fries.

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Sweet onions, such as Vidalia, have very thick layers making them chief contenders for great onion rings. Try them in French Onion Soup, or gratins. Bonus: the high sugar content and low sulphur content makes them more palatable and cuts down on the stinky after effects of onion eating.

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Last but not least, my nemesis, the red onion. Long touted as the ultimate garnish for a burger, these are best for eating raw. They are sharp and pack a punch, but are a little less strong than a white onion. I have been known to surgically remove each spec of them hiding in my food before consuming it. Since I have to say something nice, I will admit that these stinkers are awfully pretty when added to salads and sandwiches. Soaking them in ice water before serving takes a bit of the edge off, by reducing the sulphur content.

Next time a recipe calls for an onion, use these guidelines to choose the type of onion that best suits your dish and your palate.

photos: Glasshouse Images

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