Even if you love to cook, you will probably agree that chopping onions is one of the worst parts of preparing a delicious recipe. While onions themselves are yummy and nutritious, they can be a huge pain when it’s time to slice them. Add to that the slippery surface of these circular vegetables and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Without the right knife skills, you could end up cutting your fingertips. If you’re tired of the tears and frustration, don’t fret. Master chefs have been dicing and slicing onions for years, and they’ve perfected how to mince these veggies with minimal risk and irritation.
Set Yourself up for Success
Before you start, make sure that you have all the tools that you need for success. You will want a sharp knife to avoid slippage and uneven cuts. In addition, a non-slip cutting board will become your best friend. Also, take a cue from the pros and always fold your fingertips inwards when holding the onion while you chop. This will prevent the knife blade from slicing into your fingers. Now, let’s dive into how to cut onions like a professional chef.
1. Carefully Cut Off the Ends and Halve the Onion
You can start by carefully cutting off the ends of the onion. Yes, an onion is circular, but you will notice that it has a stringy top and a more root-looking bottom (an onion is a root vegetable after all). Hold the onion down against the cutting board with your non-dominant hand and carefully use your other hand to slice off the stringy tip and the rooted bottom of the onion.
At this point, the onion should be able to stand up on its flat bottom. This will make it much easier for you to cut it in half. Start from the top and slice down through the center of the onion and down to the flat bottom. At this point, you will have two halves and it will be easier for you to peel the outer skin off of the vegetable.
2. Start with Horizontal Cuts
Now that you’ve got two peeled onion halves, it’s time to start making horizontal cuts. There are several different terms for the way that you can cut an onion, so let’s go through them right now. If a recipe calls for a “rough chop”, this typically refers to uniform chunks of onion, although the size is unspecified. Chopped onion pieces could be anywhere between one to one and a half inches. A small dice is a piece that’s about one-fourth inch thick, although there are large dices that can be one-half inch to three-fourths inch thick. A mince means that the pieces will be as small as you can make them, similar to minced garlic, if you’ve seen that. When cutting slices, the recipe will usually tell you how thick to make them. For instance, it might call for slices that are one-half inch, three-fourths inch, or one inch thick. Either way, these will still be horizontal cuts.
While making your horizontal cuts, you will want to place the onion half on the cutting board, flat side down. Hold your non-dominant hand on top of the onion and use the knife to make horizontal cuts, keeping the knife parallel to the cutting board. This means that you will start from one side of the onion (the left or right) and you will keep the knife straight and parallel to the cutting board while you cut through to the other side. Stop just before you reach the end of the other side so that the onion is still uncut at the very end. This will make it easier to make the vertical cuts.
3. Make the Vertical Cuts
Now, it’s time to make those vertical cuts, and you’ll want them to be the same width, or as close to it, as your horizontal cuts. Again, you don’t want to slice all the way through, so keep that uncut bit of the onion intact. This will make it easier to hold onto the onion and stop all of the pieces from falling all over the place.
For these cuts, you will mostly use the upper portion of the knife. Start a bit to the side of the uncut portion of the onion and make vertical cuts starting at the top of the onion and slicing down. You will now have a criss-cross cut pattern on the onion, but you’ll still have that tiny uncut portion intact.
4. Slice Across
So, to recap, you sliced horizontally to make planks and then you sliced vertically to make sticks. Now, you can slice across to make smaller pieces of onion. Use your non-dominant hand to hold onto the onion, sort of cradling it so that your fingertips are resting on the top of the onion and your palm is cupping it. Again, you want to curl your fingertips inward so that they don’t get chopped. This way, your knuckles are poking out and they can guide your knife on where to go.
Holding the knife parallel to the cutting board, make cuts across the onion, starting from one flat end and making your way to the other flat end (tip to root). When you’re done, you will have small, uniform pieces of onion that you can add to a soup, stew, or stir-fry.
5. Tricks to Stop Onion Tears
If you dread chopping onions because you always cry, try out some of these tips to keep the tears at bay. One trick is to put the onion in the freezer 10 to 15 minutes before chopping it. You can also try cutting it under water or running water, and always use a sharp knife because it will prevent you from crushing the onion and releasing more tear-inducing fumes.
Another way to protect your eyes from onion fumes is to wear goggles or to hold a slice of bread in your mouth so the bread absorbs the fumes. Lighting a candle near the onion can help with dissipating those fumes, too. You may also coat the knife blade in lemon juice and avoid cutting the root of the onion off until last because this is where all those fumes are concentrated.