Oh Onions, Oh How I Love Thee!
Onions, I cry for you! Literally, is any vegetable more the Holy Grail of culinary arts? I consider onions the pearls and stripes of cooking. My wife is fond of saying that Southern women can wear pearls with anything from jeans to pajamas and they go with anything. During my 22 year tenure as Graphic Designer I often told clients green is the color that never clashes. Well, Onion must be the culinary equivalent. I know of no flavor that is not enhanced or that cannot meld with this odoriferous giant.
Last week I went out to lunch with a buddy of mine. We were discussing food, as you can imagine I often do. He said the unthinkable, "I hate onions!" After I picked myself up from the floor and managed to crawl to the bar for a stiffener, I came back and said, why? Onions, carrots and celery are the Trinity of French Cuisine! How do you cook? We are still strong friends, but, suffice it to say, as a chef most of my savory recipes start with onion. My mother responded to this with the horror of "I use dehydrated onion"! Oh the humanity!
According to my father, my great-grandfather John Locke ate raw onions like an apple most days. A prolific smoker he lived to very old age so they must be good for you. I'm just not sure if that would be good for your breath or love life.
The secret that most don't know about the sharp, smelly fresh onion is that when exposed to high heat in fat or oil the vegetable caramelizes creating a sweet and very complex flavor that form the base for so many cuisines from French to Spanish. It really does not resemble in anyway the white vegetable that makes us cry. Instead, the onions become translucent, sweet, and rich as they brown.
How do I use Onions?
Most of my savory recipes start with a base of butter and/or olive oil, sautéed onion and a clove of garlic. Many of my sauces and soups start in this way, too.
To start so many French dishes I use a base of onion, carrots and celery call Mirepoix.
I make thin slices of raw purple onion for salads to add flavor and color.
For tacos I heat onions in a skillet on high heat and quickly caramelize them in olive oil and butter to serve on my taco station. Mix them with julienned red peppers for color and zing!
Shallots, an onion cousin, is another of my favorite bases for recipes. This is one of the most wonderful substances on earth when sautéed in butter.
Onion powder, as pedestrian as it may sound, is one of the main components in my steak rub.