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I’ll never forget the time I had to slice and caramelize 50 pounds of onions for a catering job. I didn’t realize my eyes could produce that many tears.
My eyes get red and puffy for hours after I cry, so I looked like a hot mess. People stared. I told them I was thinking about the ending of “The Notebook.” (I didn’t really, but maybe I should have.) Honestly, I didn’t even notice the burning sensation after awhile.
The more I practiced, the faster I got, and the less I thought about it. Next thing I knew, I was staring at a giant mass of gorgeous caramelized onions just begging me to eat some when my employer wasn’t looking. (I might have.)
Luckily, most home recipes call for only one or two onions, so you can avoid serious waterworks.
Once you understand the basic technique, cutting an onion is all about practice. You don’t have to rush through it like those professionals and cheftestants on TV.
The goal when cutting onions is to create similar-size pieces that will cook evenly. Take the time to do it right.
Chopping, slicing and caramelizing onions are simple techniques used in countless savory recipes, making them essential skills as you learn how to cook.
Today, I’m going to show you how to properly hold a chef’s knife and use it to chop an onion into evenly sized pieces. We’ll also cover how to slice an onion into half moons. Then, you’ll learn how to use those onions to create a caramelized onion dip that’s great for gatherings both small and large.
<Scroll ahead to see the recipe for Caramelized Onion Dip>
A cutting board
A sharp chef's knife
Any type of onion will work, but yellow onions have a nice balance of sweetness and astringency, and are an excellent choice for most recipes.
Before we get chopping, let’s make sure you’re holding that knife properly so that you keep all your digits in place.
You want to use a sharp knife. It sounds counterintuitive, but most knife-related kitchen accidents happen because people use dull knives. With a dull knife, you have to press harder. If you don’t have a proper grip ... Yikes.
The other reason accidents occur is because many people don’t know how to hold a knife. To hold a chef’s knife properly, choke up on the handle. That means your thumb and index finger should grip the actual blade, not the handle. The action of cutting should be an extension of your arm and, more specifically, your elbow, as opposed to your wrist. It feels weird at first (trust me, I know), but with practice, it becomes second nature.
You also want to try and use your knuckles as a guide for the knife by tucking your fingers under. Practice keeping your fingers away from the blade.
Place an onion on the cutting board with the stem end pointing sideways. Slice off and discard the stem end to create a flat surface.
Place that surface against the cutting board and slice the onion in half from top to bottom directly through the root end. Peel off the outer papery layers and skin.
Lay half of the onion cut side down on your cutting board. Make lengthwise cuts along the onion, slicing all the way to the root end but taking care not to slice through the root itself. Adjust the angle of the slice as you make your way around the onion. More slices will mean smaller pieces.
Once you’ve finished slicing the onion, tuck your fingertips under your knuckles and make crosswise cuts, using your knuckles as a guide for the blade.
THE HALF MOON
To create half moon slices, start by following Steps 1 and 2 as shown above. Next, hold the root end and make a series of thin, parallel slices beginning at the stem end.
A word on caramelizing onions
Have you ever tasted a French onion soup that was overly sweet? Or a caramel dessert topping that was too bitter? Caramelization is all about finding a flavor balance between sweet and bitter. When an onion has been lightly caramelized, it can be very sweet.
Once the caramelization is pushed too far, you’re left with bitter, burnt onions. Low heat and plenty of patience are usually key to proper caramelization, so don’t be afraid to taste as you go. I also recommend making more than you think you’ll need, because that tasting thing can get a bit addictive.
Caramelized Onion Dip
8-10 servings (makes about 3 cups)
HANDS-ON TIME: 15 minutes
COOK TIME: 45 minutes
EQUIPMENT: Large straight-sided skillet or saucepan, chef's knife, cutting board, bowl
MAKE AHEAD: The caramelized onions can be refrigerated for 3 or 4 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. The dip can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; re-stir before using.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, sliced into half moons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
8 ounces whipped cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
Potato chips or crostini, for serving
Heat the large skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the oil along with the sliced onions and a pinch of salt. Keep a cup of water nearby. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, as they slowly pick up color and turn from yellow to golden brown.
As a glaze develops at the bottom of the pan, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water and scrape up any browned bits, incorporating them. Repeat this process occasionally for 30-45 minutes. Stir frequently, but also let the onions rest sometimes to encourage a glaze to form again at the bottom of the pan.
The onions are done when they are dark brown and taste equally bitter and sweet. They should reduce to about 1 cup. Let cool to room temperature.
Whisk together the cream cheese and sour cream in a large bowl, until smooth. Add the cooled caramelized onions, the Parm, chives, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the teaspoon of pepper. Taste, and add more salt and/or pepper, as needed.
Transfer to a serving dish. Serve with potato chips or crostini.