Cutting an onion

You'd be surprised, but cutting an onion without proper technique is a messy, smelly, and tearful experience, here's one way of doing it well.

Tools needed

First of all, you're going to need a sharp knife. My favourite is a Global 5 1/4-Inch Santoku Knife which was given to me by a dear friend, but a good, sharp chef's knife should do the trick. If it isn't sharp, it won't cut through the onion cleanly, which causes more onion juice to disperse, and it causes you to cry more - so keep it sharp.

The second tool you need is a cutting board. Some chefs swear by wooden boards, but onions are notoriously smelly, and unless you have the luxury of having a wooden cutting board only for onions, it might be best to get a plastic one.

Finally, optionally, you might need some water and some lemon juice.

Cutting an onion into tiny pieces

For many things, the onion needs to be cut into tiny squares. The fact that an onion is multi-layered will help you here, but the trick is to put it to your best advantage, so you can make as many small pieces as possible, with the fewest cuts as possible.

For these instructions, imagine the onion as a planet (tip: meridians go from pole to pole, latitudes go around the equator), as it makes it a little easier to explain what we're doing. Try the following...

  1. Cut off the north and south pole, discard the poles
  2. Place the onion on now-flat south pole, and cut the onion in half through both poles
  3. Peel the skin off the onion
  4. Place the onion on its flat side, and make cuts along its latitude, ensuring you don't cut all the way through. This can be achieved by holding the knife at a slight angle, leaving a small gap closest to you when you're making the cuts.
  5. Turn the onion 90 degrees, and make cuts along its maridian, this way cutting all the way through. This should leave you with tiny squares.
  6. The last remaining bit of onion will have to be cut into more pieces where you didn't cut all the way through in step 4, but save up these pieces for last if you're cutting a lot of onions, and you'll save even more time

The reason for not cutting all the way through in step 4 is so the onion keeps its integrity, which a) gives you something to hold on to while you're cutting, and b) means that you don't have to hunt down little pieces and re-cut them.

Less crying

Why onions make you cry is covered separately, but there are a few tips you can follow to reduce the amount of tears coming to your eyes - some of them work, some are old wives' tales, but it's worth giving them a shot until you find one that works for you!

  • Keep your knife sharp
  • Peel the onion under water
  • Wet your hands and your knife before cutting the onion
  • Briefly put the onions in the freezer before cutting them
  • Breathe through your mouth instead of through your nose
  • Wet your forehead and cheeks before cutting the onion

Getting the smell off your hands

Onions smell strongly, and the smell can seem really difficult to get off. Again, a couple of tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before you handle an onion
  • Wash your hands immediately after you've cut the onion
  • Put lemon juice on your hands after you've washed them to neutralise the smell