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Dec 5, 2008 01:26 AM

onion technique

Am reading a novel set in Turkey, early 19th century. The main character likes to cook and describes a few simple dishes he is making as the story, a mystery, progresses. Ok, so he's making a salad and before adding onion he salts it and after short time rinses it before chopping and adding. Never heard of doing this and curious to know what/why. I did a superficial google search and noticed this in a recipe or two from Australia but can't find an explanation. Any ideas?

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  1. Is the salad either cooked in some way or does it have acids added to it? If so, one explanation that comes to mind is that since onions are mostly water, and salt draws moisture out of the onion cells, they then might remain firmer/more intact/less "mooshy" when heat or acids are added. (Much like salting eggplant in prep before cooking.)

    2 Replies
    1. re: Steady Habits

      The salad is not cooked. I considered that it might be done to draw the liquids out, as one might do for a cucumber. In case of cucumber, the cell walls are broken down by salt (I think), and cucumber becomes 'more receptive' to dressing. Of course the 'crispy' nature of onion is lost but perhaps that's another goal.

      1. re: serious

        Actually, when you salt vegetables to draw out the water, it does make them crisper. The cell walls are not broken down (alkali do that, not acids, which if anything tend to slow down the tenderizing process for cell walls but they can carry flavor as in marinades) as such but water is drawn out and then the resulting salad doesn't get as mushy if left dressed for long. This is why salting and rinsing coleslaw ingredients is done.

    2. One should normally rinse raw onions before serving them raw - it's actually a sign of a kitchen that knows its stuff when you encounter it (you don't need to do this for sweet onions). Salt would help draw out the bitter compounds in the onion's liquid. Another approach is to marinate them in red wine vinegar and then rinse.

      1. Claudia Roden, in 'Middle Eastern Food', mentions letting onions stand in a mixture salt and vinegar so that they will soften, lose pungency, and absorb other flavors.

        1. My mother used to salt onions when she was serving them raw - as in a salad or an accompaniment to smoked fish or something. She said it "tamed" the flavour. I guess it did, but it also softens the onions rather than making them more crisp. It's ok but I could never be bothered to do this.