Of all the vegetables, onions top the list of what most people hate chopping the most. It’s up there with butternut squash in terms of produce that isn’t exactly easy to deal with. But if anyone knows how to cut an onion—without crying—it’s the cooking pros at New York City’s Haven’s Kitchen. The organic cafe regularly holds cooking classes, and earlier this year released a cookbook.
Here, David Mawhinney, culinary director of Haven’s Kitchen, shares his best tips on everything you need to know about cutting an onion, starting with how to pick the perfect ones on your next trip to Trader Joe’s.
Scroll down for everything you need to know about cutting onions and watch the video above to see how it’s done.
How to tell when an onion is ripe
“When selecting an onion, feel for its heft,” Mawhinney says. “Onions should feel heavy, have no discolored parts, and shouldn’t have any green growing out of the top. That means they’ve started to sprout—similar to garlic.” He also points out that different varieties have different flavors: “A yellow onion is more potent than a white one, and Vidalia onions have a more pronounced sweetness. Red onions add a pop of color and turn pink in the presence of acid, like vinegar or lemon.”
How to properly peel it
Once you have your perfect onions home, the first step of the cutting process (after rinsing them) is peeling. “I start by cutting a small piece off the top (opposite the root end) and rest the onion on its newly cut flat surface,”Mawhinney says, adding that in general, it’s always a smart move to create a flat surface while cutting vegetables. “Next, with the root side on top, slice the onion in half along the North-South axis. Then, peel off any brown or discolored layers off of each side.”
The best way to cut an onion
Now comes the actual cutting. If dicing, Mawhinney suggests that after cutting the onion in half, to lay the flat side down, and using only the tip of the knife, make a North-South cut from the top to about a fourth of an inch away from the root, following the natural lines. “Then, cut horizontally, perpendicular to the root, slicing according to the desired dice slice,” he says.
If you’re slicing instead of dicing, Mawhinney says to actually remove the root end and use the entire blade, cutting the onion into fine slices, starting at one edge and moving toward the other, letting your fingers guide the knife and thickness of the slice.
How to not cry
So what’s the trick to not crying? As someone who chops a lot of onions on a regular basis, Mawhinney has a handy trick: “Breathe through your mouth instead of your nose to avoid the irritation,” he says. And if you’ve ever heard that freezing an onion will help, he advises against it. “That will affect the texture of the onion and could also cause a [cutting] accident.” Uh, yikes!
Now that you know how to keep your eyes dry, you can chop up onions with abandon. Soon, you’ll be working your way up to tackling that butternut squash…
While you’re sharpening your knife skills, check out this no-fail way to cut an avocado. And here are five staples everyone should keep in the kitchen.