HOW TO COOK ONION
- Don’t cut corners when chopping onions
- How you fry them matters
- Learn to fry, sweat, brown and caramelize
- Pickled onions are a hit
- Go easy on – and finely chop – raw garlic
The strong oils and aromas in onions are chemical warning signals that are actually there to make sure that we and other animals don’t eat them. This is why onion often – but far from always – needs cooking.
I have a problem with raw onion.
– Joel Aronsson
I’m a fan of raw onions.
– Per Renhed
Chopping and slicing the right way
Whether you’re serving onion raw or cooked, the way you first chop them plays a major role. A large chunk of sweet, juicy onion tastes heavenly if it’s been in the oven under a roast chicken, but the same chunk raw would destroy the whole experience of a salad. Put a bit of time and thought into how you are chopping and slicing. Experiment on yourself.
You can get onion to taste differently different (and produce a different mouth-feel) depending on how you fry it. Here are a few techniques:
Sweating means frying in butter or oil at a low enough temperature that the onion doesn’t brown. The method needs to take its time and the result is that you draw out the sweet, fruity flavors hidden in the onion’s layers.
You brown onions at a slightly higher temperature. The higher temperatures cause new flavors thanks to caramelization and the Maillard effect. The result is roasted toffee flavors when the sugars in the onions slowly caramelize in the butter. And the onions turn a gorgeous golden brown. If the onions are burned, it’s because they’ve cooked too quickly and the taste will be slightly bitter. This method needs a bit of patience.
Caramelized onion takes even longer than the two methods above. To get a beautiful, highly flavored “tangle”: thinly slice the onion and cover the base of a wide, thick-bottomed saucepan (you need to maintain an even temperature for a long time). Fry in oil or clarified butter (otherwise the proteins in the butter will be burnt and produce additional unwanted flavors). Fry the onions for up to an hour at a medium temperature. Stir as little as possible, but turn them two or three times.
Stir fried and sautéed onion
This method is more “hands off”. The pieces of onion should be small (but not finely chopped) and the heat needs to be high. You’ve succeeded if the finished onion is hot, aromatic and steaming and still retains its springiness. Since ccoking time is short, a mild onion is recommended.
Roasted onion adds flavor that you can use for more purposes than sprinkling on top of hot dogs. Make sure it’s fresh (don’t use that jar you’ve had open since the children’s party three years ago) and use it as garnish on a range of dishes. Try it in the dishes you know well, replacing the onions with roasted ones.
Slices of onion for hamburgers
This recipe works with several different sizes of onion: Cut an onion lengthwise into slices about one centimeter thick. Fry each side strongly so that you get a highly flavored outside and a juicy, crispier inside. Place the slices in a hamburger, with or without meat. Tasty!
How to blanch onions
Lots of types of onion have a strong taste and need cooking to make them soft and good to eat, but milder, crisper sorts can be blanched. The finer sections of leeks and spring onions are a prime example. This method gives you a quickly cooked vegetable which has retained its flavor, crispiness, color and nutrients. Here’s how:
- Slice the onion into smaller “fork-sized pieces”.
- Dip them into already boiling lightly salted water.
- Leave to cook for about 2 minutes. Spring onions might need even less time.
- Pick them out – use a draining spoon – and dip immediately in cold water.
- Drain and serve.
Brown in butter and/or oil. This draws out the onion’s flavor and sweetness. Add a little liquid – for example water, stock, wine, beer – and reduce until the onion is done. It should retain its texture and chewiness.
Pickled shredded onions
You can pickle onion (and many other vegetables) in exactly the same way as cucumbers: Shred it and put in an acidic solution. The result – after a few hours – will be a crispy, highly flavored garnish that goes with most things.
A mild onion in a 1-2-3 solution is always a hit.
– Joel Aronsson and Per Renhed agree for once
Choose your onion with care if you’re serving it raw. Spring onions, red onion, silverskin onions and the whitest part of leeks are a few suggestions.
The flavor of garlic becomes milder and more rounded when cooked. Cooked garlic “melts” quite quickly in a stew and it isn’t as important what form it is in when you add it.
Fried garlic should be sweated and take on a little color, but the flavor can be unpleasant if it burns. In many fried dishes all you need to do is add a whole clove to the frying pan and take it out before it burns.
In a wok or a sauté pan, garlic should be chopped so that it quickly heats up and takes on its good, big, cooked flavor – but without burning.
Good quality garlic is good raw but you can easily have too much of a good thing. Excessive amounts of raw garlic in food can produce a “metallic” not very fresh flavor. And that tends to develop in the wrong direction as the night goes on…
Garlic that you’re serving raw should be as finely chopped as possible, ideally crushed. No-one’s pleased to find a large piece of raw garlic in their dinner.