Onions are the backbone to almost all savory dishes, so you'd think we all know which onions to buy, right? Wrong. With many varieties out there, a few different colors to choose from, and sometimes vague recipes to deal with, it can be hard to know which onion is best to use. Some are better suited for cooking with, and others should never be used for sauteing.
These layered bulbs can be astringent, sweet and tangy all at once. They are the not-so-secret ingredient for many home cooks and professional chefs alike. An onion alone can fill your kitchen with the sweet smell of a satisfying meal to come. Just sautéing them in a bit of olive oil -- the first step to many recipes -- will have people wondering what delicious feast is being created in your kitchen.
Finding a fresh onion is almost as important as selecting the right variety. One that is heavy in your hand and very firm to the touch is the freshest. If an onion is soft or has a strong potent odor, then it has passed its peak and will most likely give off an unpleasant flavor. Onions can store well for up to two weeks (sometimes longer) in a cool, dark place. Sweet onions, however, have a bit of a shorter life span. Onions are notorious for making people cry, but there are a few tricks to avoid the reaction to the gases.
Need to know which variety to buy? Click through the slideshow below for a quick onion guide.
Which is your favorite onion? Leave a comment below!
The most common onion, and the real all-purpose work horse of the kitchen, is the yellow onion. When a recipe calls for onions, it's almost always referring to this one. This has a strong astringent flavor -- a result of its high sulfur content -- and is also nicely sweet. The yellow onion is better used for cooking rather than raw -- but it can work in any recipe if you're in a pinch. The longer this onion cooks, the sweeter it becomes, and it adds a nice tangy flavor to dishes. This is the onion that makes the beloved French onion soup. It works beautifully in soups, stews, sauces, pastas and so on.
Many people confuse white onions for yellow ones and vice versa. But there's a bit of a difference between the two. White onions have a slightly more mild flavor and a higher water content. While they can be substituted for cooking yellow onions, their flavor is better suited for being served raw. They're used in a lot of mexican dishes -- salsas in particular -- since they have a nice bite and just the right amount of sweetness.
Red onions -- very seldom confused for another variety -- are best served raw. They have a mild flavor that is similar to that of a white onion, but offer a beautiful purplish-red color splash to your dishes. When cooked, these onions will lose their bright color and won't give off the same flavors as the yellow all-purpose. They're best served in salads, particularly when sliced very, very thin, and atop sandwiches, too. They also grill on the barbecue very nicely.
You may know these onions by their brand names, such as Vidalia, Walla Walla and Spanish. These onions are naturally very sweet, so much so that some people eat them as a sandwich -- just two pieces of bread, thick slices of sweet onion and a bit of mayonnaise. They're not distinguishable by color -- they come in yellow and white -- just by their sweet taste. Sweet onions have a higher water content and less sulfur than others, which is why they don't have an astringent flavor. They don't store as long as other onions, so be sure eat them up fast.
Shallots are a part of the onion family, though they look similar to garlic; they even grow sectioned into cloves like garlic. Shallots are small in size and come in either a brownish- or magenta-colored skin. It's their rich, sweet potent flavor -- with a natural hint of garlic -- that makes them such a valued ingredient in many professional kitchens. They're particularly prized in France and are prominent in French cooking. Shallots add a depth of flavor to salad dressings, sauces and pan sautés.