The onion is one of the most widely cultivated vegetables on the planet. It's hard to think of a cuisine where it isn't an integral flavor, or many recipes that don’t begin with chopping one. But aside from "bloomed" as an appetizer at Outback Steakhouse, there are few places where the onion is really the star. "If you grew up in a French kitchen, it's understood as the foundation of cooking," says Chef Dale Talde of Talde Brooklyn. But often it's kept as an aromatic and nothing more. It’s time for the onion to be the star of the show, and it turns out accomplishing that is really easy.
Choose Your Onion
Different onions have different flavor profiles, and not all of them will work as the centerpiece of a dish. For instance, red onions are great raw, but biting into a whole one might be too overpowering. Chef Talde prefers to use yellow Spanish onions when making an onion-centric dish. "A slow-roasted yellow onion is really great, just make sure it has some kind of cheese or miso. Something with a ton of umami flavor!"
Choose Your Cooking Method
If you've done any sort of cooking, you know that onions can stand up to a lot of different cooking techniques. "Pickling, slow braising, frying, grilling, sautéing — they all kind of work! I don’t know a technique that doesn’t work for them," says Talde. And if you can, keep them as whole as possible. On the grill, keep them whole and stuff with cheese and vegetables. In the oven, cut the onions into wedges to roast and serve on bruschetta. That way you'll know they’re the star.
Treat Your Onions Like Meat
Even when onions aren't the centerpiece, they should be well attended. "A lot of people don’t use enough onions. They're impatient with it. They let it get too dark too quickly, instead of letting the natural flavors come out while cooking it slow," says Chef Talde. Proper caramelization takes time, and can’t be done over high heat. But if you're patient, you’ll get rich flavor and color that’ll enhance any dish. "Just because it’s a three-cent vegetable doesn’t mean you can’t treat it with care. Treat it like a $20 piece of short rib."