Monday, November 25, 2019

Hint: How to Break Down an Onion

Recorded October 30, 2013. Revised November 25, 2019. Revised May 29, 2021  

This discussion of how to turn an onion into slices and reasonably-uniform dice was adopted from a science of cooking course I teach to older adults at the local university. My hope was to show how understanding onion anatomy helpss to produce the best shape for the dish you are preparing, efficiently, safely, and with a minimum of tears.

An onion is formed of concentric layers made of tightly-packed tubules that transport water from the roots up to the leaves and carry nutrients made in the leaves down to the bulb for storage. These vessels run parallel to each other from root to leaf tip. This means that when you slice in the 'polar' direction, that is, parallel to polar axis from root to stem, you will cause the least cellular damage. Use this cut when you want onion pieces to keep their shape during cooking or perhaps in a salad. On the other hand, the equatorial cut slices through all the vessels, and so causes more cellular injury. Use this cut when you want the onions to break down, such as for caramelized onions.

To form dice, cut the onion in half through the poles. I usually rinse and dry the halves to reduce eye irritation. Retain a portion of the root when peeling. Then slice in the polar direction along the radii following the shallow grooves in the surface, stopping just short of the root. Then, to form dice of about equal thickness, cut across the leaves in the equatorial plane. No need to use the slow, dangerous horizontal cut that is classic.

Injured cells release an irritant chemical, syn-propanethial-S-oxide. Use a sharp knife to produce in fewer tears. Also, cold onions release less irritant because chemistry is slower when it's cold.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Quick Gravy

Developed November, 2019. A rapid microwave recipe for a gravy that is suitable for many purposes. It can top chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, or seafood dishes depending on which stock concentrate is used. We recommend the Better Than Bouillon™ product line.
1 c tap water
2 t stock concentrate
pinch of GP Seasoning
1 T tapioca (or corn) starch
Whisk the ingredients together thoroughly in a microwavable container. One that doubles for storage is handy. Heat on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until the mixture boils and thickens, taking care that it not boil over. Yields about a cup. Easily doubled.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Line-Cook Seafood Chowder

Developed November, 2019.This delicious chowder is adapted from a recipe posted to Reddit by a line cook who described it as a “signature soup at my restaurant Patrons love it, and I think you will too.” I agree. Well-balanced, creamy, and economical.
1 oz vegetable or olive oil
½ c (125 ml) chopped red onion
1 c (250 ml) diced celery
½ c (125 ml) diced carrot
3 c (650 g) diced yellow potatoes, skins on
1 T minced garlic
1 T salt
1 10-oz can baby clams with juice + 1.5 cans of water
1 T chicken stock concentrate
250 g cod fillet, or other firm white fish, cut into half-inch cubes
½ T ground black pepper
1 c (250 ml) half and half
2 c (500 ml) milk
1 T dry dill weed
1 T Old Bay seasoning
For the roux:
½ c (one stick) butter
½ c all-purpose flour
In a 6-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the vegetables, garlic, and salt. Heat thoroughly with stirring, cover, and turn off heat. Let the vegetables sweat for 10 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the clams, clam juice, water, salt, pepper, and the stock concentrate. Cook over medium heat for 10 more minutes. Add the cod to the pot, and simmer for 5 more minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, in a small non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. When the bubbling stops, slowly stir in the flour. Cook about 4 minutes with constant stirring until the roux turns a light tan and is smooth. Combine the cream and the milk in a large measuring cup, and off heat, slowly pour half the cold dairy into the roux with continuous whisking. When smooth, mix with rest of the dairy remaining in the cup. Stir the roux mixture into the chowder, add the dill weed and Old Bay, and heat to a fast simmer with stirring until the chowder thickens into a smooth creamy texture. Yields about 2-1/2 quarts (liters). Serve with oyster crackers or hot biscuits.