The red onion is perfect for salads and sandwiches. Photo: Thomas Martinsen

Dishing out some onion tips

Onions come in all shapes, sizes and colours and I get asked quite a bit when to use what onion.

To be honest, I don’t follow rules for onions as I simply prefer red onions in almost every dish. The beauty of red onions is that they taste wonderful when raw in a salad without the ‘bite’ of a yellow/brown onion and I think it is also good for caramelising onions – although a lot of chefs might not agree as traditionally, yellow onions are used.

Here is a little breakdown on when to use what type of onion.

If you follow a recipe and it calls for onions, you can be assured that yellow onions are perfect (recipes normally state if red onions or shallots are meant to be used). When using yellow onions raw, they tend to have a sharp taste but they release their sweetness when slow-cooked/sauteed, hence why they are mainly used for onion soup, stews and caramelised onions for tarts etc. Yellow onions are also the most common and most inexpensive onions on the market.

White onions are harder to come by. They contain more water than the yellow ones but have also a sharp bite with a more pungent flavour and a great crisp texture. So, if you really (and I mean really) like onion flavour, then this is the perfect onion for you.

My favourite is the red onion and this one is perfectly suited for salads, sandwiches etc. and I prefer them in my daily cooking. Then we have shallots, the small elegant cousin who comes in handy if you need a sweet onion note without too much cooking. They are smaller than onions and make you cry just as much as the ‘normal’ onion (don’t tell shallots that they are not normal – they are sensitive).

I would use shallots if a recipe calls for quick pickled onions or in a vinaigrette where I don’t need too much of a bite. You can substitute shallots for yellow onion but make sure to use the same amount (if weight is used in the recipe – the average weight of a medium onion is about 150 - 170g).

Pearl onions are great for pickling and cooking whole, but I haven’t seen many in supermarkets to be honest.

Last but not least we have spring onions (or scallions) and leeks – both are a good addition if you prefer a milder flavour. In any case, if you like to get rid of the raw onion flavour, just rinse the onions in cold water.

When buying onions, look for dry, papery skin and a heavy weight. Onions that are too light tend to be wilting away from the inside. Also, try to avoid sprouted onions as they can change the flavour profile of your dish.

Spring onions should have a firm white bulb at the bottom and beautiful green stalks while leeks should be firm. Onions should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place but not in the fridge as the moisture inside can lead to mould. How to avoid the dreaded tears you may ask?? There are some tips I have gotten from people with one saying to put a wooden spoon in your mouth – not something I like to do to be honest.

The other tip is to avoid cutting the root which had no impact on me in the past. The only time I don’t cry while chopping onions is when I wear my contact lenses which convinced me that the onion goggles might actually do the trick, but I have yet to purchase a pair.