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Do you cheat when you chop onions?


Fat Guy
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onion.png

 

You don't need all those horizontal cuts; in fact, they make your dice more uneven. They're just vestigial tails from the don't-question-the-chef era of French Classicism.

 

 

One or two (or sometimes three) horizontal cuts, along the bottom edge of the onion, do make sense. They keep you from getting long flat shards from along the outer edge. How many you need depends on the size of your dice relative to the size of your onion. Small dice from a big onion means more cuts. For most onions I just make one or two horizontal swipes. (image on left)

 

 

If you want very precise uniformity, there's a third way. Instead of cutting the onion in half, cut it in thirds. Set aside the middle third for the stock pot; you won't use it for this. Skip the horizontal cuts, and make your vertical cuts in a radial pattern. You can get almost perfect brunoise this way, working just with the onion's native geometry. (image on right)

 

If you don't care about uniformity, skip the horizontal cuts altogether.

Edited by paulraphael (log)
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Notes from the underbelly

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I actually use the method paulraphael shows on the right hand diagram. It works very well. And saves me from the stress I get with my knife phobia of possibly slicing into my fingers.

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"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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If you don't care about uniformity, skip the horizontal cuts altogether.

I realized this is unclear. What I mean is that if you just need a rough dice, do it the conventional way, like in the image I posted on the left, but skip the horizontal cuts. It works fine, but you'll get some long and uneven shards.

Notes from the underbelly

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Ive never understood this anal affectation for 'perfect' dice.  ive been fortunate.  ive lived in Europe, both FR and (E)Spain.

 

later i was able to take my parents in FR to some really fine restaurants in Tours, FR

 

FF ( remember them ? ) were at the time 11 to the USAD.  that = free.

 

a very nice meal , I mean really nice  " on the way to one star " for two w 1 1/2 bottle of nice local wine  ( Chinon )

 

( the 1/2 was for the cheese ) was about 200 FF  a lot of money for the french at the time, 20 USAD to me.

 

I almost talked my father into a train trip to :

 

http://www.auberge-de-l-ill.com/V2/index.html

 

that dinner for two would have been  about $ 80 at the time.

 

however, I finally under stood ' even dice '

 

( not available here , at " Auberge de Moi  " were I eat )

 

when I read this book :

 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Making-Chef-Mastering-Institute/dp/080508939X/ref=sr_1_6/180-3925455-3426701?ie=UTF8&qid=1403027649&sr=8-6&keywords=rhulman

 

i highly recommend it.

 

re dice :  the first semester the students 'mastered'  all had to be done by a certain time, and exactly identical pieces.

 

the dice went upstairs to be cooked by the second year team, turned into Stock, which went upstairs for 'Sauce' etc

 

Mr R was not so happy.

 

but the Prof eventually pointed out ' Even dice cook evenly ' none under cooked, none over cooked , perhaps burnt ? "

 

this was for 3 star cooking, were  everything was subtle. and exactly 'one thing'  those burnt bits and undercooked bits would not have been subtle.

 

look for this book.  its very interesting and a good read.

 

in my 'Chez' ive been know to Pulse w the Cuisinart.

 

no stars My Way any time Soon. 

 

the book is not so much about 'Cooking'  cheffy or not

 

but about the 'discipline' of cooking.

 

take it or leave it.  some time discipline matters, some times not

 

discipline can sharpen Focus.  or not.

Edited by rotuts (log)
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I never do horizontal cuts either. If you want it cut finely, you should do it like this:

 

I like this kind of fine slice too. Some Japanese-trained guys I know do it this way almost always. They think little cubes are unnatural looking.

 

But the original question was about dice. I don't have a problem with dice.

Notes from the underbelly

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Ive never understood this anal affectation for 'perfect' dice.  ive been fortunate.  ive lived in Europe, both FR and (E)Spain.

 

Perfect dice only matters in dishes that have a geometric component, and where precise presentation is important. If you have tweezers in your kitchen, or more than one saucing spoon, then you're probably not laughing at this description.

Or maybe you get bored during prep and enjoy a knife skills challenge.

 

I think  it's handy that your can choose techniques from different parts of the anal / fast continuum.

 

 

Whatever your inclinations, the OP makes a good point. Horizontal cuts all the way up an onion are both slow AND sloppy.

Notes from the underbelly

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this makes sense if you are concerned w the First Oder Derivative.

 

but  there are dishes where that uniform dice is cooked   evenly

 

for the second order derivative  no dice ever appears no presentation at all  Sur la Plate.

 

I can't explain it better than in the book

 

its a fine read for all of use who enjoy cooking

 

BTW  the snow storm sequence is also packed with a certain type of wisdom

 

many of us have forgotten.

 

please check it out and read it.

 

you will enjoy it.

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"First order derivative" sounds like finance, and makes me want to hide.

 

I get that even cutting is important for even cooking, but I think that for onions all the methods mentioned here are good enough for even cooking.

 

Edited to add: I've read Ruhlman's book, and the couple that followed it. I enjoyed them. More than his recent writing.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

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nope  not finance

 

""  I think that for onions all the methods mentioned here are good enough for even cooking.""

 

for us

 

not for the ***** stars

 

I do agree that the earlier books were much more intersting that the later.

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for us

 

not for the ***** stars

 

Maybe. Do we know if anyone's done a blind comparison? It's amazing how many of cooking's sacred cows have only been scrutinized recently, if ever.

 

It's easy to imagine some kinds of dishes where evenness of an onion would matter to the flavor. But I'd bet against the chef who thinks he or she will taste the difference in a stock, sauce base, soup or other typical setting.

Notes from the underbelly

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I do agree.

 

but I suspect the only point of even dicing is even cooking.

 

after that, 

 

why not just Cuisinart it and SV it ?

 

thats going to be really even.

 

times change and the Brigade de Cuisine marches on.

 

my father, an accomplished Electrical Engineer and a fine teacher told me this story about early 

 

MIT :  they did have electricity, by the way:

 

there was a 'Lab'

 

not so unlike the CIA's slice and dice lab

 

that gave each student a block of I think Iron ?

 

they were also given a file

 

there job in that lab was to produce an even block of of that metal

 

all sides the same as all the others.  a 'perfect' block.

 

he realized then and as he told me this story 70 years later

 

the block had nothing to do with it.

 

it was to learn, as an engineer  a bit of humility.

 

bet they don't do that now at MIT  ( I call it Mass Tech )  drives them Nuts.

 

but some thing is a bit lost with just pressing "Return"

 

not that much

 

just a bit.

Edited by rotuts (log)
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Cuisinart does a desperately uneven job, unless you go all the way to pulp (but I use it, with the slicing blade, for stocks).

 

I think that for even cooking an onion should be cut reasonably evenly. Better than a food processor, but not better than any of the techniques in this thread. I'd be willing to put this to the test, but haven't done so.

 

Going for extreme evenness is for presentation, or else for fun. Or spiritual edification.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

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I agree again

 

but the Cuisi and the SV might make the un-even-ness very irrelevant it what you are looking for is something

 

you plan to use 'farther up the line'

 

 

as M.Richard says :  "Happy in the Kitchen"

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I can appreciate the even dice and the ascetics of them in the dish. But the size of the dice has little in cooking evenly. If the dice lays flat in the pan, ( _ _ _ ) instead of vertical ( I I I ) the thickness will be almost the same because of the nature of the onion. There may be minor differences in cooking time but not enough to matter in most cooking.

Dwight

If at first you succeed, try not to act surprised.

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  • 3 months later...

This is an interesting conversation. The method in the Zuni cafe cookbook always sounded interesting but I couldn't figure it out when I first read about it.

For what it is worth, I do the horizontal cut along with the other two. I guess the classic way. If you have a razor sharp knife and good techniqe I see no reason why this method would be slower or less precise than any other way. Fortunately I do have a razor sharp knife. If I were to not do the horizontal cut then that is one leas cut I get to do with my knife! ;)

This video, while a bit over dramatic with the flying pieces of onion, does show how easily and quickly those horizontal cuts go with a sharp knife.

P.S. That isn't me.

Edited by Robenco15 (log)
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That's very impressive, and I'll have to try it at about a quarter speed.  I usually do the series in a different order (the 'horizontal' cut first, with the onion oriented so that it was a vertical cut) and this looks more efficient.

 

OTOH anything done by a pro in my kitchen would look more efficient, and anything I were to do with pro equipment in a pro venue would look less so.   :rolleyes:  :laugh:

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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This is an interesting conversation. The method in the Zuni cafe cookbook always sounded interesting but I couldn't figure it out when I first read about it.

For what it is worth, I do the horizontal cut along with the other two. I guess the classic way. If you have a razor sharp knife and good techniqe I see no reason why this method would be slower or less precise than any other way. Fortunately I do have a razor sharp knife. If I were to not do the horizontal cut then that is one leas cut I get to do with my knife! ;)

This video, while a bit over dramatic with the flying pieces of onion, does show how easily and quickly those horizontal cuts go with a sharp knife.

P.S. That isn't me.

 

The guy in the videos is named Aaron; he does videos for a lot of the knives sold on Chef's Knives To Go and he has freakish speed when doing onions: 

 

 

Personally, I do the radial thing. I VERY rarely make the horizontal cuts. Though now that I have a new knife to play with I might try to get my speed up and learn how to do those quick-flip horizontal slices.

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Videos like that are impressive on first glance because of the speed. It's when you pause them and take a look at the aftermath you can see the skills of the person. It doesn't take much to machete a vegetable into a million chunks of completely different sizes and shapes. There's nothing wrong with this if you're doing something that requires little precision, like putting the onions into a stock or sauce... but it makes for a lousy technique demo. 

 

If you want to show a skill, show it slowly. Then show it fast if you want to impress, but be honest and zoom in on the result (which is what prep is actually about).

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I think the purpose of the videos is not to show the technique but the agility and sharpness of the knife.

 

As for onions....I find the "classic" method as shown really bad for consistency if one isn't a freak about precision. The radial method is much easier in that regard.

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I don't think the video is impressive, he slides aside a big chunk of onion at the end.

 

I don't do the horizontal cuts, I find them unnecessary and awkward.

 

 

My method is very similar to this....

 

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~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it!

 

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