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I am constantly chopping up onions for my famous sausage and peppers with fried potatoes—a staple of my dinner rotation. But the process always seems tedious and leaves me in tears. It doesn’t have to be this way, though, according to Professional Chef and Culinary Instructor Frank Proto.
In the Epicurious YouTube video titled. The Best Ways to Peel and Cut Onions (And The Worst) , Chef Frank explains his preferred onion cutting methods—which don’t necessarily line up with traditional culinary school—that he claims will make the process faster and easier.
In the 10-minute clip, Chef Frank explains that onions are the “backbone of so many savory dishes,” and every dish needs a different type of cut. Those cuts will determine how much flavor your onions have. Here’s the breakdown.
As Chef Frank explains in the video, onions contain both sulfur compounds and an enzyme called synthase. The moment you cut into an onion, those two things combine and form a chemical compound called syn-propanethial-s-oxide. This irritates the glands in your eyes, which causes you to cry.
There are many myths to stop tears when cutting onions, but Chef Frank says the only sure thing that helps him keep the tears at bay: wearing contact lenses. Of course, not all of us wear contacts, so other barriers (like a COVID face shield or goggles, no matter how ridiculous you may look) could help.
Additionally, having a sharp knife is key as a dull knife can smash the onion, causing more damage to the onion’s cells and releasing more of the tear-evoking compound. Chilling your onion in the fridge or in an ice bath for 30 minutes can also lessen the chemical’s effect.
The method for peeling onions that is taught in culinary school is not Chef Frank’s preferred method, but he says it’s something that every home cook should know.
The traditional method involves chopping off the root and carefully removing the peel down to the root.
Chef Frank doesn’t like this method because it requires two knives and is more time-consuming. So, what is his secret? According to Frank, his preferred peeling method was something he learned from his prep cook Alberto who told him, “Chef, you’re doing that wrong.”
Being a humbling experience, Chef Frank listened up.
Using just a chef knife, slice off both ends of the onion and then cut it in half. Next, pull off the first layer of the onion along with the peel, saving this in the fridge or freezer to make stock.(Epicurious)
He admits this method doesn’t really work for onion rings, or when grating the onion. But for every other cut, his preferred method works well and is much faster.
First and foremost, using a sharp knife is not only key for helping to reduce tears, but for making the process of chopping onions much easier. In the video, Chef Frank appears to be using a Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife, which is a surprisingly affordable knife that has a dedicated fan base in the culinary world.
Whatever knife you use, regular sharpening is a must. Chef Frank recommends using a whetstone, which he says is the most effective tool to use when sharpening knives at home.
Chef Frank first outlines the traditional culinary school method for dicing onions. It’s a technique many of us are familiar with, using the root as an anchor while slicing and dicing.
Yet using his preferred peeling method, you may recall that the root was removed in the process. And according to Chef Frank, that isn’t an issue at all. While similar to the culinary school method, he claims his way to chop an onion is “at least one third quicker.”
To start, make vertical slices running parallel to the ends of the onion, ensuring the knife doesn’t completely cut through on the other side. Next, make vertical slices running perpendicular to the ends, following the natural curve of the onion.(Epicurious)
Of course, there are other tools out there to make the process easier, and Chef Frank gives those a demo as well.
As a professional chef, Chef Frank admits he’s not much of a gadget guy. But given that many of us aren’t as well trained with a knife, some of these kitchen tools can actually be of great help.
In particular, Chef Frank tests out the Mueller Vegetable Chopper. Simply choose the plate for your desired diced size, place half an onion on the plate, and push. With wide eyes and a pep in his voice, Chef Frank noted that “it worked a lot better than I thought it would.” We’ll count that as a win.
Another tool that every kitchen needs, per Chef Frank, is a box grater like this one from OXO. This single tool allows for fine shredding, large shredding, grating, and slicing—and it happens quickly.
This is the chef’s go-to tool when making meatballs, meatloaf, and potato pancakes. The trick is to hold it properly—on its side on top of a tray—and push the onion with your body weight for a quick cut. This method is efficient and won’t make you tired, unlike the “granny method” of using the box grater upright.
To get all of Chef Franks’s helpful tips, be sure to check out the full video below.