Last month I had the good fortune to attend a cooking school with acclaimed chef and author Sara Foster. We spent a day with her in the garden and in the kitchen, then on Day 2 we were teamed up and charged with cooking for her and the rest of our group. Our table (which I shared with my mom and two other lovely women) was responsible for Succotash Salad with Garden Tomatoes. Given the size of our party, we had to quadruple the recipe. That meant dicing four peppers, four onions, and eight tomatoes, plus slicing kernels off 8 ears of corn.
Much to everyone’s relief, I volunteered to tackle the onions. At home I always do it by hand, despite my Cuisinart. I love the rhythm of my knife against the wooden cutting board and find the whole process soothing in a “life-was-slower-then” kind of way. Besides, I think machines tend to be too rough on food.
Sara was giving instructions to another table, so I asked Joseph Lunn, chef de cuisine at Blackberry Farm, for advice on how to peel the onions. It always seems like the onion skins break apart and it takes me longer to peel the slippery onion than to chop it. Not only did Joseph show me how to peel them in a fraction of the time, he demonstrated a technique for dicing them that beats the one I learned in cooking school. Here’s what he did. (Thanks, Joseph!)
Wash the onion if the root end is dirty and put it on your cutting board.
Chop off both ends and discard.
Slice in half lengthwise and peel. You’ll probably lose the outer layer of onion, but Joseph said not to worry about. I love how fast this is!
Place half of the onion horizontally on the cutting board. Take your knife on the far side of the onion just up from the cutting surface and slice it nearly all the way through, making sure to leave the far end intact so the onion stays together. Move up the knife an eighth or quarter of an inch (depending on size dice you want) and make another slice, repeating until you’ve sliced all around the onion.
Now slice the onion vertically. The onion will naturally separate into even pieces.