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Sikes: Go ahead and cut those onions, for crying out loud

Sikes: Go ahead and cut those onions, for crying out loud

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Frequently I am asked about cutting onions. Sometimes the questions involve how to best hold them or about a better way to get the size pieces needed. Mostly the inquiries mention crying. How to deal with the problem of watery eyes when cutting onions.

My first answer involves getting the onion cold. Room temperature onions release more oils than if they are cooler. Pretty simple – put them in the freezer for a few minutes and that does the trick. Also a while longer in the refrigerator will accomplish the same thing. You can also put them in a bowl of ice water for a bit.

This trick works pretty well. I find that it depends on the onion and its age. Sometimes better than others.

Important – don’t store onions in the refrigerator. That’s not a good place. Those mesh bags are made for the job. Good airflow and out of the light works best.

If your knife is sharp, the onions cut easier. That means less oils escape. Sounds easy and it is. Use that sharpening rod every time you get out a knife.

Some people try to cut onions under water. Basically running water. Not an easy task. Anything other than big slices just doesn’t work. This is sort of awkward to me.

Chop onions around a fan in some way. Moving air helps a good bit. It can be an actual fan blowing air or the exhaust for the range. The flowing air gets those nasty oils away from you and your eyes.

Speaking of range, some say cutting onions near an open flame can do the trick. If you cook with gas, give it a try. More of a logistics issue like that water option. Never worked for me.

Speaking of not working, there are some wife’s tales and other stories that are likely to fail you.

Forget putting a whole onion in your microwave. Not going to help. The same for putting stuff in your mouth. Like a metal spoon or bread. Come on, you know better than that.

I fell for the breathe through your mouth trick. I tried it with no success years ago. Seemed like a good idea and certainly easy enough. Sorry.

My eyes are sensitive from several surgeries. Let a little bit of onion oils get in there and more than tears happen. It will double me over in pain. Not sure what Lasix does.

My solution was to get actual surgical glasses. The ones that fit rather closely. The oils don’t get in and you can see great. I keep a pair in the drawer by my cutting board.

The best trick isn’t a trick at all. Simply hurry up. Work on your knife skills so you can cut and chop more efficiently. Also get a plan before you start. Helps every time.

Cut the blossom end off and leave the root. The onion won’t fall apart on you. Also don’t let the cut onions just sit there while you work on more. Cover them with a paper towel. Discard the skins and peels right away. Wipe the board.

Don’t touch your face or rub your eyes. Not a good idea.

If you have lots of onions to slice, consider your food processor. Don’t forget that cut onion oils can still get into your eyes. Get the onions into something – like a skillet. Get to cooking them right away. Do other prep first and save the onions to the last.

Onion preparation can be a chore, but it doesn’t have to make you cry.

Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opleika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.


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