Why Do Chefs Smash an Onion?

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Whether it is used as the star of a recipe or just a complement to the main ingredient, simmered until caramelized or served raw, the sweet and spicy flavor of the onion makes any dish shine.

There are different ways to prepare this aromatic – all of which are considered slight torture because it’s a sure tear-jerker.

But one way, made popular by a chef through TikTok, is said to prevent that particular pain.

Smashing an onion is said to be one of the fastest ways to peel an onion. And when you work fast around this sharp-smelling vegetable, you’re also lessening the chances of you crying over your chopping board.

The aforementioned chef’s TikTok video shows a halved white onion lying flat on a chopping board, the tops already removed. He then smashed the piece with his fist and simply picked out the papery peel off with his fingers.

But there are other reasons why many smash their onions like they would a clove of garlic.

Related: See the best chef knives that famous chefs use daily

1. Knives make onions more bitter

Some believe that the metals in the knife will create a chemical reaction with the juices of the vegetable, causing it to taste bitter.

Then again, bruising the onion does the same thing because of oxidation.

This is the reason why one-day-old slices will have a more pungent flavor than newly cut ones.

The best way to know if there is a difference is to try it. And because ‘taste’ is still quite subjective, you should give this a try as soon as possible.

2. Keeps the middle-most bulb intact

This practice is quite popular in Turkey because the ‘cücük’, the smallest bulb at the core of this aromatic, is said to be the tastiest.

This is kept whole when the vegetable is smashed instead of sliced.

In a traditional Turkish dinner setting, diners are given whole onions beside their plates.

They smash this, take the ‘cücük’, and eat it with a piece of torn bread dipped in the sauce of their main dish.

3. It’s a traditional way

A long, long time ago, utensils weren’t used when dining so smashing this may have been how it was done.

Those who use their fists turn to a heavy object – a smooth stone or the base of their clay bowls – to smash the onion open.

However, this method won’t work if your recipe calls for nicely sliced pieces, especially if you need rings for burgers or when you plan to fry this whole as you would with ‘crispy blooming onion’.

Some tips to prevent (onion) tears

1. Freezing It Whole

Placing these in the freezer for an hour or so is a very effective way to prevent the waterworks while you’re on your chopping board.

This is because oxygen doesn’t get into the opened-up cells of the vegetable halting the oxidation and there is a slight delay in the spread of the sulfurous gas, thanks to the layers of microscopic frost over the cells.

Disadvantage:

The trouble with this method is that it could turn mushy when the ice defrosts.
The sliced or diced results are best used for stews or when you’re planning to sautee or caramelize it.

2. Soaking in Cold Water

Another great option is to soak these in cold water for thirty minutes.

Placing a few ice cubes in it will duplicate the effects of freezing it.

However, these won’t turn to mush when the sliced pieces warm up.

Disadvantage:

It would be hard to cut these up because the vegetable is wet.
But this is easily remedied by having a kitchen towel nearby and working fast.

3. Use a Sharp Knife

One of the biggest mistakes people make when doing their chopping board chores is using an unsharpened and un-honed knife.

Let us say, yet again, that a blunt blade will ruin your food.

First and most importantly, a sharp knife will cut clean through onions and won’t unnecessarily tear cells along the way.

On top of that, a sharp knife will make your work several times faster than a dull one; which means you’re not going to suffer through the task for a long time.

Finally, you’ll get good slices. Every single time. With a well-sharpened and honed knife.
And that’s always a win.

4. Put a Piece of Bread in Your Mouth

This might seem funny but those who have tried this swear that it works wonders.

Simply have a medium-sized piece of bread in between your teeth while you’re slicing and you won’t have to cry your eyes out.

It would be a crying shame if you’re smashing onions just to stop the tears from flowing.

The ways mentioned above are more effective without having to ruin the aesthetics of your aromatic.

But, if you want to have a go at the Turkish delights mentioned above, go ahead and try smashing those onions.

A new experience is a great experience.

Last Updated on August 14, 2021

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My name is Andy Wang, and I'm a retired chef. I used to work at the City Vineyard restaurant in NYC. I also had a culinary degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. And this blog is where I share my love for knives and cooking with people like you.