I peeled my fair share of onions through culinary school.
To be honest, there seemed to be a never-ending stream of them. Each one landing on my prep station to challenge my skills and burn my eyes.
Eventually I learned the craft of peeling onions quickly, safely, and without tears. I’d imagine that, if you’re reading this, you may not be responsible for peeling onions in mass quantity. Still, there’s a ton of value in knowing how to do the job efficiently.
In this article, I’ll share some of the techniques, tips, and tricks I learned in culinary school. And I promise that this basic framework and a little practice will go a long way toward making onion peeling manageable, if not fun, for anybody.
In This Article
First, Here Are A Few Tips For Success
Mise en Place
Mise en place is a French term used in culinary arts; it means “everything in its place.”
Every action in the kitchen should begin with gathering your mise en place so that everything you need to complete your task is right in front of you and doesn’t require moving all over the kitchen.
What You’ll Need:
- Onions, of course!
- A sharp chef knife
- Cutting Board
- A container for scraps
I like to save my produce bags for trash. Instead of peeling things over a large garbage bin, I will line a large mixing bowl with a produce or shopping bag. This way, there is no mess, and I’m not moving all over the kitchen with trash.
Additionally, if whatever I am peeling slips, it will land in the bowl of scraps instead of a bin of rubbish—a quick rinse, and it is still usable.
Always Use A Sharp Knife
You are less likely to injure yourself with a sharp knife than a dull one. This is because you will not need as much force to cut something with a sharp knife; if you are pushing, there is more chance for the blade to slip.
A sharp knife is essential when cutting a round vegetable, like an onion. You do not want to be forcing a blade into an object that can easily roll around.
The best knife for this task would be a chef’s knife. Because of its versatility, it is one of the few knives essential for chefs and home cooks alike.
Most people own a chef knife, and you should too, but if you’re looking to go beyond the most universal knife in the kitchen you might try a utility knife or nakiri instead.
Pairing knives, steak knives, and other standard smaller blades are unsuitable because they may not be large enough to cut the onion in half in one stroke.
On the other hand, a chef’s knife is perfect for cutting into even the largest of onions safely; too small, and you would run the risk of hacking into the vegetable and possibly your finger!
Secure Your Cutting Board
Another way to prevent injury is to make sure your cutting board is stable on your countertop. Do not use a warped cutting board or one that refuses to stay put.
I like to keep some non-skid rubber grip fabric on hand. I will buy a small roll and cut it into squares. It is the perfect material to place under cutting boards or mixing bowls and helps add some leverage when trying to wrestle open a tight-lidded jar.
Pro Tip: A damp but rung-out paper towel underneath the cutting board will work just the same in a pinch.
Curl Your Fingers
Protect your fingertips!
When cutting anything, curl your fingers tight against themselves, like a flattened fist. The barrier created by your knuckles will prevent the knife from knicking your fingers. The line of your knuckles also establishes a guide for the blade to slice the onion.
Take your time with this step!
Remember, knife skills are an ENTIRE COURSE in culinary school. It is something to learn and practice to grow those skills.
Don’t expect to be a culinary ninja right off the bat! But, by slowing down and practicing the fundamentals, you will naturally become more confident and precise; even famous chefs had to start somewhere!
3 Simple Steps To Peel An Onion
1. Cut in Half
First, cut the onion in half lengthwise from stem to root. Now you have a flat surface to stabilize the onion for further cuts.
2. Slice Off the Stem Tip
With the cut segment of onion touching the cutting board, identify the stem side from the roots. Slice off a sliver more than the stem portion. This cut will give your fingers some purchase to peel back the unwanted onion layers.
Pro Tip: Leave the roots intact as a safe handhold while cutting the onion instead of chopping off all undesirable sections at once.
3. Remove Outer Flaky and Tough Layers
Wiggle your pointer finger underneath the outermost onion layer, bracing your thumb against the rooted end.
Finally, curl your pointer finger toward your hand, and the flaky layers of onion skin will peel back. Tear off these layers at the root.
Give your segment a once over for any remaining bits of skin, then repeat all three steps on the other half of the onion.
Pro Tip: Save the onion layers, stem tip, and clean rooted bits in a freezer bag with other veggie scraps. Once the bag is full, you can use these scraps to make delicious homemade vegetable stock. Utilize this flavor-packed stock in place of the liquid in your savory recipes.
The steps for peeling an onion are reasonably straightforward once you’ve gotten the hang of it. After peeling two or three onions, you’ll be a pro. Remember to begin with cutting the onion in half to provide yourself with a flat and stable base to cut against. Then, once you’ve shed the tough and flaky outer layers, you’re all set to learn how to cut an onion!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the process for peeling different kinds of onions the same?
Yes, you can follow these steps to peel all kinds of onions. Yellow, purple, white, sweet, you name it! Pearl onions may give you a hard time because of their small size, but take your time, and you’ll do great.
Should you wash your onions before prepping?
If there are clumps of dirt or a layer of grime that you do not want to contact your cutting board or knife, give the onion a rinse under the tap. This step is optional since you will be peeling away all outer layers of the onions anyway, but if you are particularly nervous about bacteria or contaminants, peel away the flaky layers of onion, then rinse and dry it very well before proceeding with the steps outlined in the article.