Question: What are the differences between the various onions commonly found at groceries stores?
From the perspective of a grocery store, you can divide onions into two major categories very quickly: bulbs and sprouted bulbs. Leeks, Ramps, and Scallions are examples of onions sold with the tops on. While some people discard the tops, they can be used just as easily as the bottoms, especially in making stocks.
Shallots look like small onions, but are oval in share and usually are covered in a brown skin. Shallots are sweet and mild with their own distinct flavor. I use them in salad dressings, risottos, and cold puree sauces. Another great use for them is peeling them and roasting them in the oven to go with game or fowl. And finally, sliced very thin they compliment a number of southeast Asian dishes, especially Thai.
Spanish/sweet onions contain more starch and sugar than yellow or white onions. I use them when I want to make jams, french onion soups, or anything where people will be eating a cooked onion. You can eat vidalia onions raw as well, but this probably is not for everyone.
White and yellow onions I use primarily for sauces as they are not as rich and flavorful as vidalia onions. They usually come in mesh bags at five pounds and are not usually pleasurable to eat raw.
Red onions, of course, I serve either raw or slightly cooked. They work great in salads and salsa, but also can be good just quickly sauteed in a warm salad, like with roasted mushrooms and balsamic vinegar.
Cippolini onions are small flat onions, which you usually see in the olive bar, already marinated. I like to braise these and sieve them with cooked meats, especially beef and veal.
Pearl onions are the tiny round ones that come in small bags. I don’t often have the patience to deal with them, as they require considerable labor to prepare. If you want to use them, blanch them, then peel the outer layer of skin off. I like them best in my Gibson (Boodles or Hendricks).
Matt Kantor is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He has worked in kitchens includingPicholine (New York), Gayle and Tangerine (Philadelphia), and Fenouil (Portland). He now works in Toronto and runsLittle Kitchen, a catering company that will cook fantastic food in your own home. He also cooks for the monthly event, Secret Pickle Supper Club. Follow Matt on Twitter.
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