I’ve never heard of a man divorcing his wife because she didn’t cook onions, but I’ve heard of plenty of marriages it saved. I once had a cooking student who attended only one cooking lesson, making it clear when she arrived that the only reason she was there was because her husband wanted her to be a good cook, and had a fantasy of her staying home and cooking all day. She believed her hands were meant to hold charge cards, not a knife.
When I ran into her several months after her solo class, I asked her why she had not returned. She looked at me, stunned. “Well,” she said, “I learned everything I needed to know – I learned that if I cooked onions and garlic the second I hit the house he thought I had been home cooking all day.”
In fact, men eat 40% more onions than women do, according to the sweet onion source..com website. I’ve never measured my consumption of onions in poundage, but they have always been a necessity of mine for cooking. They would be my first choice for the “what would you take to a dessert island” question. I decided this long ago when I found out they prevented scurvy and I wanted to be a pirate. Now it turns out they have many more anti-oxidant and medicinal uses, which the website boasts about.
Peeling an onion is almost a metaphysical act. Each layer is a different size, as it grows ever smaller. The outer layer is crisper, from its exposure to the sun after being pulled from the ground. The older the onion is, the more “crisp” layers there may be. These additional crisp layers may, like the skin, be used for stock or discarded.
There seems to be an endless variety of uses for the onion – from chopped white ones in tacos to caramelized yellow ones for tarts, soups, and adornment for steaks, not to mention crispy fried rings or arcs. Each way they taste a little different, bringing something else to the table.
But some definitions are in order, which apply to home cooking rather than the rigid definitions one might learn in culinary school. It is important to know that every one of these will yield a different measure of onion to start, although once the water is extruded they will wind up roughly the same. Always use a sharp knife.
Chopped – Chopping is preferred when small pieces are desired, as in a soup, or when they are to be combined, as with tomatoes for a salsa. Chopping is to enable a small amount to nestle on a spoon without drooping over. Usually chopped onions are served raw, or cooked until they are opaque. Roughly chopped is larger than chopped.
Dicing – Smaller than chopped, dicing is preferred when absolutely uniform product is required. Dicing is used for garnishing, as well as the uses for chopping. Other words may be “minced” or “very finely chopped” to describe a very similar product.
Sliced thinly – Sliced until transparent, about 1/8 inch, these onions are usually served raw, as on a hamburger, in a salad, or as a garnish. It is difficult to cook very thin onions, as they may burn quickly, losing all the juice from the onion and becoming dry and hard.
Sliced – Sliced somewhere around 1/4 inch thick, this onion is best cooked over low heat until it is translucent. Caramelizing is tricky, but can be done if a low heat is used, along with a great deal of patience.
Sliced 1/3-1/2 inch thick. This is an ideal size for caramelizing, cooking long and slow until all the natural sugars come out. Also called “sliced roughly” or “sliced thickly”, it may take up to an hour to caramelize a thick onion ring, but it is well worth it.
Sliced 1/2 or more thick – Some prefer this thickness for fried onion rings and raw onions for hamburgers.