Dicing an onion....

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by rgm2, Aug 25, 2011.

  1. rgm2

    rgm2

    Messages:
    168
    Likes Received:
    16
    Exp:
    Line Cook
    This might seem like a stupid question... however, I always see people making horizontal slices through the onion and I can't seem to understand it. I have tried it with and without the slices and I can not really tell the difference in the finished product. The horizontal slices actually make it harder to keep everything together for me. I am wondering if anyone can shed some light on this subject for me other than "because that is how it is done" or "that's how we have always done it". I really want to understand the reasoning for the way we do things as we do them.
     
  2. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

    Messages:
    6,367
    Likes Received:
    129
    Exp:
    Food Writer
    You're partly right: It's done that way because it's how they teach it in culinary schools. And they teach it that way because it's always been done that way.

    In theory, the horizontal cuts mean that each piece will be more nearly the same size as all the others. But the reality is, most of the time the vertical cuts are all you need. Once you make them, having sliced through the rings, the dice is just as good. Just make sure to space the vertical cuts as consistently as possible.
     
  3. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

    Messages:
    8,550
    Likes Received:
    199
    Exp:
    Cook At Home
    There's no mindless ritual to it. The horizontal cuts help the pieces break up into dice without you having to break the layers apart. Otherwise the layers tend to stick together.

    If you're right-handed, the onion usually holds together better if you make the horizontal cuts first, and if you're left handed you'll be more likely to have success if you make them last. I don't know why that is -- just one of those things I suppose.

    Sharper knives work better than duller.

    But even with everything just right, sometimes pieces of the onion just get away.

    If you angle the vertical cuts toward the center of the onion rather than cutting straight down, you can get away without making the horizontal cuts.

    Hope this helps make sense of it,
    BDL
     
  4. rgm2

    rgm2

    Messages:
    168
    Likes Received:
    16
    Exp:
    Line Cook
    OK, in say an onion that is 3-4 inches in diameter... how many horizontal slices are needed to get the pieces to fall apart, 1 or 2?... I am asking for generality rather than hard and fast answers here. I have seen people do it 1/4 to 3/8 inch and I have seen people do just one. I have even seen people do on but on an angle towards the root end.
     
  5. chefross

    chefross

    Messages:
    2,731
    Likes Received:
    384
    Exp:
    Former Chef
    "In theory, the horizontal cuts mean that each piece will be more nearly the same size as all the others. But the reality is, most of the time the vertical cuts are all you need. Once you make them, having sliced through the rings, the dice is just as good. Just make sure to space the vertical cuts as consistently as possible."

    I disagree....The horizontal cuts are necessary in order to get structured diced all of the same size. If you were to only do vertical cuts, the pieces would not be uniform in size and shape. That's the whole idea for doing it both horizontally and vertically. It's all about consistency in the desired cut.
     
    chef mike k likes this.
  6. chefedb

    chefedb

    Messages:
    5,516
    Likes Received:
    176
    Exp:
    Retired Chef
    Depends on size of onion.Larger onion will produce larger dice.
     
  7. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

    Messages:
    6,367
    Likes Received:
    129
    Exp:
    Food Writer
    That's what I used to believe, Ed. Until I realized that the "larger" size resulted from the thickness of the rings. And that doesn't change.

    Don't try to envision it with an onion. Instead, just draw a single arc on a piece of paper with about a 2-inch base. Divide it into, say, 1/4 inch segments. Then draw one with a 4 inch base and do the same. There will be no appreciable difference in the size of the pieces. What will change is that you get more of them from the larger arc.

     The horizontal cuts are necessary in order to get structured diced all of the same size.

    That would be true, Chefross, if you made enough horizontal cuts to space things to the size of the dice. That is, if you want a 1/4 inch dice, you would have to space horizontal cuts 1/4 inch apart, do the same with the vertical cuts, and then space your actual dicing cuts the same distance.

    Given the nature of onion layers, even that would only make them more nearly the same. Which, if you read my post, is exactly what I said the theory was.

    I've never seen anyone make more than a couple of horizontal cuts, however. Certainly not enough to truly affect the uniformity of the dice.
     
  8. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,496
    Likes Received:
    477
    Exp:
    I Just Like Food
    I think it makes a difference on larger onions too. The larger onion remains vertical longer before curving over more. You can have slabs between 1/2-3/4 inches high on that last vertical cut on a large onion.  Thickness of the rings doesn't seem to enter into it. as they seem about the same in my experience.

    On big onions, you only need enough horizontal cuts to get past the steep vertical rise, usually just one or two is enough.

    But even on a shallot I usually like a horizontal slice to get the mince I'm looking for.
     
  9. petemccracken

    petemccracken

    Messages:
    3,401
    Likes Received:
    159
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    Really? I guess I've been doing it wrong all these years. I make both horizontal and vertical cuts spaced to the desired dimension of the dice, within reason, i.e. 1/4 inch dice, the cuts are 1/4 inch apart.
     
     
  10. pcieluck

    pcieluck

    Messages:
    369
    Likes Received:
    12
    Exp:
    Line Cook
    The horizontal slice, to me, is about 80% useless. Usually the layers in the onion are smaller than your horizontal slices, making them sort of useless, but being that you're cutting layers on a curve, you're going to have long pieces of onion from the sides.  The horizontal cut will prevent those larger, uniformed pieces, but being that you are talking about layers that aren't straight or perfectly uniform themselves, that horizontal cut won't make it perfect.
     
  11. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,496
    Likes Received:
    477
    Exp:
    I Just Like Food
    I don't think anyone is claiming the horizontal slice makes the dice perfect, but that it improves the general consistency of the pieces.
     
  12. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

    Messages:
    8,550
    Likes Received:
    199
    Exp:
    Cook At Home
    I don't make as many horizontal cuts as you do, but do make more for smaller dice than for larger. For shallots though, just what you describe -- because shallots are so tight.

    As you're fond of saying, "what would we know?"

    BDL
     
  13. siduri

    siduri

    Messages:
    3,599
    Likes Received:
    46
    Exp:
    At home cook
    I haven't gone to culinary school or worked in a professional kitchen, but when for some reason i want even cubes of onion i slice the onion in the thickness i want.  They fall flat and even if overlapped, i  cut with the chef's knife right on the board, in even strips vertically then horizontally. 

    I never liked horizontal and vertical cuts through the whole onion for various reasons

    - the onion tends to squish in my hand and sometimes the central parts squirt out

    - you have to chop the ends anyway, since it won't hold together if you horizontally and vertically cut it right to the end. 

    - it's much faster because requires less care in cutting, i can slice evenly very quickly

    The only time i really do the cuts in the whole onion first is if i don't feel like getting out the cutting board and cut it directly in my hand into the pot. 

    However, while you can get even dice with other vegetables, in the end they will never be even because the dice you cut will inevitably have the section division through some of them and in different places and they'll tend to fall apart along those lines.  But when are even dice so important, anyway?
     
  14. chefross

    chefross

    Messages:
    2,731
    Likes Received:
    384
    Exp:
    Former Chef
    Thanks Pete for your support.

    I want my onions, and for that matter, any vegetable  that I cut to be as close to the same size dice as I can.

    To me this is a visual record of my abilities.

    I have seen "Chefs" chop onions with 2 knives and literally chop them that way.

    I have seen many guys/gals chop onions the way we have been conversing about as well. 

    For me........I like the look of a well made Gazpacho where all the vegetables are 1/4 inch dice.

    Other people would throw everything into a blender to pulse it to their consistency. 

    To each his own.....

    To get the desired dice one need only ignore the rings and visual the grid they want on the side of the onion. IMO it takes a knack to slice the onion horizontally in well made cuts and vertically as well. The knife has to be very sharp and great care has to be taken. I know, as I have been in places where all I did for months on end was dice vegetables all day. Standing at one station all day while there were all manner of Roubocu, blenders, and buffalo choppers to do the job, but my Chef insisted on all is cuts to be uniform, and consistent, so I guess a lot of that rubbed off on me.
     
  15. chefedb

    chefedb

    Messages:
    5,516
    Likes Received:
    176
    Exp:
    Retired Chef
    Same with me. When you chop by machinme or even random on a board the onion will throw oil and discolor quickly and can't be used for cold preps .. like served on the side  with Nova or Gaspaccho. Sure you can squeeze them out with a towl to keep white, but they also loose flavor.
     
  16. nicholas beebe

    nicholas beebe

    Messages:
    71
    Likes Received:
    14
    Exp:
    Line Cook
    [​IMG]

    Notice on the right edge of the image, there are some chunks that are substantially bigger than most of the other pieces. This is why I put one or two cuts in horizontally close to the board. Of course, you will end up with some pieces way smaller than the other ones, but I find that the little pieces are less noticeable than the big pieces, so it seems more consistent to me when I put in a couple of horizontal slices.
     
  17. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    6,759
    Likes Received:
    358
    Exp:
    Retired Chef
    And don't forget to keep the root side intact while dicing.  This holds the onion together.
     
  18. someday

    someday

    Messages:
    1,558
    Likes Received:
    337
    Exp:
    Professional Chef
    I used to work in a very high end kitchen where, if we were making onion dice that the guest would see...as in, it wasn't otherwise going to be strained, pureed, etc, we had to petal the onions, julienne them, then small dice or brunoise them. That was a PITA. Especially if you had to do a quart or two for a risotto base or another garnish. 

    I think it has to do with what you ultimately are going to use the onion for...if I am doing a quick dice for, say, a pureed soup or something, I probably won't even make horizontal cuts. But if I'm trying to be more uniform, horizontal cuts are desired, IMO. It also helps if the vertical cuts follow the curve of the onion, so instead of cutting straight down on all the cuts, you angle them towards the middle somewhat (except on the "noon" cut). This seems to help, though in most diced onions, there are pretty much guaranteed to be some rough looking pieces. 
     
  19. siduri

    siduri

    Messages:
    3,599
    Likes Received:
    46
    Exp:
    At home cook
    So nobody slices it and then cuts it crosswise when the slices are flat on the board?  they come out even and it's quick.  Is there some reason that's not done?
     
  20. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,496
    Likes Received:
    477
    Exp:
    I Just Like Food
    It's slower generally speaking though you yourself might be pretty quick at it.

    Usually the root end is left on and not cut through so that it holds the onion together while the horizontal and vertical slices are made. Then the root end is discarded after the cross cuts are made up to the root end.