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Do you cheat when you chop onions?


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 10:31 AM

The way we're taught by the professionals to chop onions is:

- Cut off the bud end
- Cut in half vertically
- Peel the halves
- Lay each half flat
- Make a series of vertical cuts
- Make a series of horizontal cuts
- Make a series of cross-cuts

It makes sense, of course. You're dealing with a three-dimensional object. You should have to cut it three times to get a good dice.

But there are a couple of additional factors that I take into consideration:

- I find the "Make a series of horizontal cuts" step to be particularly difficult and dangerous.

- An onion is not a solid block of matter but, rather, comes to us in a series of layers.

I've found that, if you just skip the horizontal cutting step, you still get a pretty good, usable dice. The sections of the onion make the cut pieces fall into little polyhedrons anyway. You save time and effort. And nobody is ever going to notice in most preparations. Like so:

Posted Image

Sure, if you're doing this at a professional level, you need to be more serious. But this approach works just fine for me, the home cook.

Am I the only one who does it this way?

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#2 Corinna Dunne

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 10:35 AM

You're not on your own. This is exactly how I "unprofessionally" chop my onions. I find it really hard to keep the onion together if I make the horizontal cut.
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#3 Live It Up

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 10:41 AM

I was actually taught to dice this way when I took some cooking classes when I was maybe 10...but with garlic. I pretty much never cut garlic this way unless I need impossibly small bits for something, but I ALWAYS cut my onions this way. I tried "cheating" as you say last week because I had a really small, mangled piece of onion and I found myself incredibly frustrated by the different sized pieces. I spent at least as much time going back over the onion cutting everything into the same size as I would have just cutting the onion the right way in the first place.

#4 judiu

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 10:43 AM

I have ALWAYS done it thusly: cut off top, cut root end and dig out that damned nasty butt, then peel, halve long-wise, slice each half long wise, then go back and cross cut into pieces as fine as I want them. As a home cook, this method has always served me well, unless I need onion rings for something special. I happen to HATE the butt end of an onion, which I always seem to get in my food, unless I yank it out beforehand. (When I say "butt" I'm referring to the thickened area at the root end of an onion.)
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#5 judiu

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 10:44 AM

I was actually taught to dice this way when I took some cooking classes when I was maybe 10...but with garlic. I pretty much never cut garlic this way unless I need impossibly small bits for something, but I ALWAYS cut my onions this way. I tried "cheating" as you say last week because I had a really small, mangled piece of onion and I found myself incredibly frustrated by the different sized pieces. I spent at least as much time going back over the onion cutting everything into the same size as I would have just cutting the onion the right way in the first place.

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Impossibly small bits of garlic, you say? Microplane, says I! :laugh:
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#6 therese

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 11:08 AM

I've always bagged the horizontal (by which you mean parallel to the cutting surface, right?) cuts. Not much point unless the onion's really large, and even then you can still produce pieces of the correct smal volume even if they're not a uniform dice.

I've clearly managed to suppress my OCD when it comes to cutting onions, and I'm very proud of it.
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#7 Clover

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 11:15 AM

I just came from a cooking course (non-professional) at a local culinary school where the instructor said he did exactly what you suggest -- he drops the horizontal cuts for home cooking. I actually had been cutting the onion horizontally as well at home, but am quickly becoming convinced that it's not best use of my time (especially since either way I end up with some uneven pieces).

#8 monavano

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 11:40 AM

It just recently occured to me that when most folks do the "professional" cutting, they do the vertical cut followed by the horizontal prior to dicing. I've always done the cutting a la Tyler Florence, which is horizontal, then vertical, then dice.
As he puts it "Planks, sticks and cubes"
I tried the former method a couple times and no wonder you give it up. It is far less stable.
With a sharp knife, I find the latter method to work very well, especially when I'm aiming for fine, uniform dice. In addition to a sharp knife, holding firm downward pressure with a flat palm while doing the horizontal "Planks" adds to stability. ymmv.

Edited by monavano, 05 May 2007 - 11:44 AM.


#9 andiesenji

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 11:46 AM

I have been cheatin for 40-some years, since I discovered a French Fry cutter
with interchangeable blades.
The original one I had was slightly different, had two handles that pushed down, forcing the pieces up, so it had to be placed in a pan.
I'm not sure how long ago I got this one, it was shortly after I remodeled the kitchen in '94.
I also use it for other vegetables, the jumbo potatoes, big parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips, small cabbages, rutabagas for oven roasting - I like to have them sized reasonably evenly.

Similar to this one.
although mine happens to be all metal and is bolted to a block in the pantry so it sets up high enough to put a pan under it.

Mine has three very sharp cutting grids 1/2", 3/8" and 1/4" and the grids go into the dishwasher.
I top and tail the onion, slip off the skin, pop it into the cutter and pull. It takes me about 30 seconds and I have done an entire bag of onions in a fraction of the time I would need if using a knife.
(For making salsa, chili, toppings for Mexican buffets, etc.)
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#10 chezcherie

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 11:58 AM

i teach this so often in class that some of my returning students play a drinking game (ala "rachael ray--every time she says EVOO") when i demo it to new students...(as long as they don't have knives in their hands while they play, i'm fine with that!;->)
the variations i use--i show them to peel the onion skin BACK, but leave it attached at the root..that creates a little vegetable "handle" --more convenient (and safer) than trying to hold on to that hairy lil root end.
Posted Image
also, i agree with the posters above---if you nearly bisect the onion (almost, but not quite through the root) , parallel to the cutting board
Posted Image
BEFORE you do the vertical scoring,
Posted Image

it will hold together better than if you do the vertical cuts first and then try to do the horizontal cut. Posted Image

then i teach them the "get the onion smell of your hands with stainless steel" trick, and everyone goes home happy!

(oh, yeah...i'm left handed...so these photos may be spacially confusing for righties!)

Edited by chezcherie, 05 May 2007 - 02:26 PM.

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#11 gmi3804

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 12:19 PM

I was just watching a Jacques Pepin show on PBS, and he dispensed with the horizontal cuts as well.

#12 slo_ted

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 12:29 PM

Like Monavano, I too find it easier and safer to do the horizontal cuts first and then do the verticals. I'll sure try the no horizontal cut method this evening, though.

#13 Chris Amirault

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 12:36 PM

Do people vary their cuts based on the shape of the onion? For example, Steven's red onion above lacks the irregularities that I often find in the centers of those onions. Since I'm often dicing a red onion finely for raw use (guacamole, usually), I use the horizontal cut if I spy one of those oddly shaped cores.

But, usually, yeah, I skip that step for onions.
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#14 Shalmanese

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 12:50 PM

Am I the only one who does wedge cuts? Instead of cutting straight down, I cut towards the centre of the onion, like spokes on a wheel. Then I can get a uniform, fine dice without ever having to draw the knife towards me.
PS: I am a guy.

#15 mizducky

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 12:52 PM

When onion-cutting came up in a previous topic, I realized I didn't quite know how I did this task. I started paying a little more attention (more than just the basic don't-lop-off-a-finger level of attention) and realized I kind of varied my approach based on the size and internal construction of the onion. I start with the basic halve-and-vertical-cut approach. If the onion's huge, I will then throw in a horizontal cut or two; if it's small, I'll dispense with those; then slice away into cubes; if there are some individual fat layers in the onion, I'll chop the resulting chunks up a bit further once I've got the basic cubes all done. And I do happen to like that chunk right by the root--plus my folks raised me to be a tightwad, so I can't just throw it out! :laugh: So that bit, and any other bit that gets too awkwardl to hang onto in the normal way, I'll just turn any old direction that makes it easy to chop, and have at it. I guess you could call this the System D (as in "Do whatever works") method. Professional cooking instructors might howl with laughter, but it works for me.

#16 scubadoo97

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 01:44 PM

I have been doing both the horizontal cut usually three followed by the vertical. I lay my hand on top of the onion half as chezcherie demonstrated and have not had any close calls. The only thing I do differently is to cut stem and a little root end off since I don't like the little root hairs getting into my dice and peel the onion before cutting in half so it all comes off in one montion which does save some time.

#17 Jay Francis

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 02:58 PM

I've been using The Alligator from Williams Sonoma for upwards of two years now and have never looked back. I use a lot of onions and only wish this device had been around when I was helping recipe test for Robb Walsh's The Tex-Mex Cookbook!

Get thee to Williams Sonoma (or Sur La Table) for an Alligator :>)

#18 project

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 03:04 PM

Of COURSE no one should make the esteemed, revered, mandated "horizontal cuts"! Of COURSE not!

Of COURSE the onions are in layers and fall apart quite nicely just from the cuts perpendicular to the other two axes.

And, OBVIOUSLY, the horizontal cuts are DANGEROUS.

These specifications of the horizontal cuts CLEARLY (!) are inserted into the tutorials by plodding, pedestrian, pedantic, insecure, literary writers, editors, directors, and producers who never peeled a carrot and are looking for comforting "rules, boundaries, and limitations"!

Whenever I see cooking information recommending the horizontal cuts, I immediately conclude that the source will provide just nonsense and give up on expecting anything of value, unless, of course, there is a great cleavage or bouncing blond ponytail involved!

By the way, seven more points:

First, for most 'globe' onions, one of the problems is many dry pieces of the root getting into the diced onions. So, first step is to grasp the root end with thumb and index finger of one hand and twist the onion on its vertical axis (that is, root toward the ground, stem end toward the sky) with the other hand and let the worst of the loose, dry root pieces abrade and fall away.

Second, it's considerably simpler to peel a large globe onion if cut the globe into quarters instead of just halves.

Third, it's good to have the weight of the onions actually used in a dish, but dicing first and weighing second is inefficient. However, if just quarter and peel, then weighting is much more efficient and can get weight usually useful enough. I weigh a dinner plate and put the quartered, peeled pieces on the plate and start weighing when I have about enough pieces. When I have weight enough in quartered pieces, maybe plus an ounce or two for the small root end pieces that will get discarded, then I start dicing.

Fourth, for many uses, e.g., many stocks and stews and for caramelized onions, just cut in planes perpendicular to the vertical axis (all of us actually DID take high school solid geometry, didn't we?). That's plenty of cutting to let the heat, oil, water, etc. get to the onion material and get the cooking done. Cutting for onion rings is specialized but related.

Fifth, for the dicing, I have my plastic cutting board at the corner of my sink and a bowl set in the sink in the same corner and under the cutting board. Then I push the diced onion pieces into the bowl. For this pushing, I use the back edge of my chef's knife.

Sixth, actually, there are also some other useful ways to cut globe onions. One such way can make globe onion pieces look about the same 'size' and shape as, say, chunks of bell pepper. For this, regard the root end as the south pole, cut through the Arctic circle and the Antarctic circle, and discard the two pole pieces. Then cut through the equator. Then, take one piece and make a cut, about 1/16" deep, along one line of longitude -- the onion then peels easily. Then make cuts on more lines of longitude, each cut through a few layers of the onion, and, thus, get nearly square nearly flat pieces of onion.

Seventh, usually not discussed in books or TV shows on cooking, after preparing three pounds of diced yellow globe onions, e.g., for 11 quarts of chicken soup, handling the 'refuse' is a problem that needs a solution. For the bag with the onions, put it with other stuff that will burn. For the peelings, put the filter in the sink drain and accumulate the peelings in the sink. Then, with a plastic dishpan pressed (with groin!) against the sink, use both hands to move the peelings over the front edge of the sink and into the dishpan. When the cutting and peeling are done, the sun is down, and the picky, fastidious, gossiping neighbors can't see, dump the pan contents onto the compost pile -- the one in the bushes in the woods out back! Even a compost pile that looks really small can take in seemingly huge quantities of kitchen onion, carrot, and celery refuse, not to mention mushrooms, shallots, and truffles!
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#19 K8memphis

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 03:04 PM

This shows the crescent shapes you can get when you cut from stem to stem then cut toward the
center like wheel spokes as was mentioned upthread.
Posted Image

But for a diced or minced I hold the onion half in my hand and make partial cuts
across both ways. I guess it's kinda dangerous but I've never cut myself... very deep. :rolleyes:
This is like a quarter onion, usually I would use the whole half. And I only cut down like an inch or so
depending on the size of the onion.

Posted Image

Then cut across to get the nice dice.

Posted Image

But you can get it real real fine this way. Love that. Love onions.

#20 ChefCrash

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 03:11 PM

If necessary the horizontal cuts can be made safely.

After cutting the stem and the root off, stand the still whole onion on the root side and make those horizontal cuts vertically, then cut the onion in half and proceed with the other vertical cuts. :biggrin:

#21 Kerry Beal

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 03:22 PM

If necessary the horizontal cuts can be made safely.

After cutting the stem and the root off, stand the still whole onion on the root side and make those horizontal cuts vertically, then cut the onion in half and proceed with the other vertical cuts. :biggrin:

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Brilliant solution and would have kept the blood off my last diced onion.

#22 torakris

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 03:25 PM

I CAN NOT do that "professional" cut, I have tried and tried and I just can't get it right.
I was hoping someone else cuts onions like me but so far I haven't seen it described, please don't laugh! :unsure:

I slice off both ends, then with the ends pointing out to the sides I slice it down into about 6 rings.
I divide the rings into 2 piles with the smaller parts on the top of each pile. I then cut the pile with a left to right cut straight down along the length of the onion making the spaces between the slices as big or as little as I want them.
I then rotate the onion so that the slices are now up and down and then make more left to right slices on the length of the onion. The onion now falls apart in a perfect dice and I have no knicks on my palm and my fingertips are still intact.
Repeat with other pile.

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#23 Prawncrackers

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 04:54 PM

K8memphis, i can't believe you've photographed your lunacy!

Please, i hope no one else dices anything in their hands!!

#24 Marky Marc

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 04:56 PM

Then cut across to get the nice dice.

Posted Image

Woooooo... this picture made me wince :wink:

#25 purplewiz

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 04:59 PM

I've tried the horizontal cuts method. It's been my experience it only works well if you have a trained professional knife sharpener at your beck and call because unless the knife was just off a full sharpening, it never cut cleanly. I've always done the let the odd shapes fall where they may, they're close enough and no one is going to care as long as it tastes good method.

For really fine dice: I peel, remove the ends, slice it in half the long way, and then slice very very thin half rounds. Then one or two at a time I slice perpendicular to the layers, changing the angle of the knife as I cut around the crescent. I get a result I'm most pleased with and while it may take a bit longer, I can do it pretty quickly now.

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#26 K8memphis

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 05:54 PM

Then cut across to get the nice dice.

Posted Image

Woooooo... this picture made me wince :wink:

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K8memphis, i can't believe you've photographed your lunacy!

Please, i hope no one else dices anything in their hands!!

View Post




Now now, I was posing for the picture, showing the dice, not cutting at the moment. And I've been doing it this way for decades. It works for me. Definitely don't do it if you can't handle it. I can get a miniscule perfect mince. However, I'm not alone in my lunacy.

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edited for spelling

Edited by K8memphis, 05 May 2007 - 10:13 PM.


#27 rgruby

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 08:54 PM

Anyone tried the Zuni Cafe method?

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And yeah, I always do the horizontal cuts too - a good, sharp knife and a few minutes practice and it'll be second nature. Really ain't that hard.

#28 jumanggy

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 09:25 PM

I agree. I first learned the technique from Caprial's ancient cooking show, Caprial's Cafe, I think. But if your knife isn't sharp and therefore might go where it shouldn't, the step should probably be skipped.
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#29 Irishgirl

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Posted 06 May 2007 - 01:13 AM

I find that the thinner (and sharper) the knife, the easier to make the horizontal cuts.

I use my santoku, and it is razor sharp. It takes one sweeping motion (not sawing back and forth, as that will make a mess,) to make the horizontal cuts. But doing them first would be easier.

#30 moosnsqrl

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Posted 06 May 2007 - 09:42 AM

As nearly as I can remember I've always done the horizontal cuts, without any ill affects. If it seems difficult or dangerous, I know it's time to take the knives in to the professionals. Onion dicing is the litmus test for the knife's ability to hold an edge.

Some time ago it occurred to me that it would be easier to do the horizontal cuts first - and it is - but the habit is so strong I rarely remember to do it that way. It does improve the stability, though.

And K8, your pix reminded me of my grandmother. I had been cooking with her for years before the girl scouts deemed us old enough to be taught how to handle a knife. It took all of my concentration to remember not to cut towards me when the troop leader or camp counselor was looking. :rolleyes:
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