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What is your go-to cooking onion?

I was thinking about it this morning as I diced up an onion to start a soup. I always buy the little yellow cooking onions in the orange netting - maybe 3 lb bags. These are my "mire-poix" onions, which I basically use in all cooking, although not, of course, when raw onions are called for in sandwiches and salads.

And I got to thinking, this is so mundane, yet possibly would create a noticeable difference in the flavor of everything I cook, copmared to a different everyday onion. Btw, the only reason my go-to is it, is because it's faster to grab a bag and chuck it in the cart than to go collect 5 or 6 loose onions.

But seriously, does it make a difference, whether your go-to is the spanish yellow, the white, the red, large, small, shallot? Using a sweet, like vidalia or walla walla, would certainly change flavors up, as I discovered once having run out of all others. But what about the rest? What do you use?

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  1. If I'm caramelizing onions, I go for sweet. Shallots are for salads. Other than that, I don't really care. I just buy whatever is cheapest.

    1. I use the exact onions you're speaking of. I don't know why, I guess it's what my mom used so by default, that's the best one (?). They always seem to work the best. If a recipe specifically calls for a _____ onion, then I'll use that, but the yellow are fine for me.

      1. Recipes for onion soup and directions for caramelizing onions usually advise against sweet onions as they lack any bite and become too sugary when caramelized. Often red onions are recommended for both. Having many times bought red onions that turned out to be extremely sharp-tasting, I learned from a greengrocer that reds are not sweet unless the label says so, and that sweet onions in general usually are flat at the poles.
        Shallots are like a blend of scallion and garlic; if substituting when shallots are called for, use scallions. Bigger shallots are milder than smaller varieties, just as elephant garlic is milder than smaller heads. I usually prep a bag of onions with my V-slicer and keep in the freezer. This mellows them a bit so there's less difference between ordinary yellow or white (basically interchangeable) and Spanish. Even straight from the freezer, they cook faster than just-prepped because freezing breaks the cell walls. I like the convenience of instantly-available onions when I'm cooking. Because using whole onions on the V-slicer is easiest and least likely to set the stage for bloodshed, I'm peeling from the end rather than the easy-peel method of halving pole-to-pole before peeling. By the way, if you do the latter, you can leave the peel attached to the root end, and use it to hold the half in place as you slice, rather than having your fingers on the onion - this is reassuring for cooks who aren't confident about their knife skills. Back to my point that since some onions fight back as you peel them, I prefer bigger ones, if the price is right. Most important are avoiding dried out or mushy onions, and taking advantage of sale prices.

        1 Reply
        1. re: greygarious

          "Bigger shallots are milder than smaller varieties"
          "Elephant garlic is milder than smaller heads"

          These are probably no brainers for most, but I never knew that (or never thought it through). Thank you!

        2. i was JUST thinking about this the other night. i wanted to chop some red onion for a frittata, and realized that i had run out of red and only had a yellow onion, which i just don't like with eggs!

          - red, Vidalia or shallots for egg dishes, most fish/seafood dishes, and salads.
          - red or Vidalia for topping a burger
          - red on a bagel or bialy with smoked salmon
          - yellow or white for slow-cooked, hearty braised or roasted dishes like stew, pot roast, chili, etc.
          - green for salads and most Japanese or Thai dishes

          1 Reply
          1. red red red, I started a post recently and even got new ideas. love em in salads, roasted are the best, just did an excellent roasted red onion soup. I can't be without them, tried others for roasting but love reds.

            During the holidays I made anew recipe "4 onion gratin" that was fntastic - next time I'm adding reds and calling it "5 Onion Gratin" (original had leeks, shallots, yellow and pearl).

            1. For Mexican food,always use white onions.

              1. Yellow Spanish onions are my choice, unless otherwise noted.

                1. I'm a red kind of gal, but I do mix it up with yellow occasionally. I find white onions to sharp for my personal taste. I always buy from the bulk bins because I'm frequently dissatisfied with the quality and size of the onions in the net sacks at my local grocery store (they're small and there's always a rotten one that spoils the bunch much faster).

                  1. Those yellow small ones are my favourites for cooking - to me, they have the most flavour per $$. For salads, big white mild ones. Red or purple for salsa, if I can find them, but I prefer not to cook red onions - don't care for the colour, and would rather have the flavour of yellow. Funny, where I live the yellow ones are very rare and I have to hunt for them. Red ones are all over the place.

                    1. Yellow for most things like mire-poix or base flavors. Red for caramelizing and grilling because I like the flavor better.

                      A little tip I picked up from a cookbook: the more flat or squat looking the onion, the sweeter it will taste. If they are more elongated or torpedo shaped, they will be less sweet.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Shane Greenwood

                        I always have a bag of those yellow onions in the pantry. But during the holidays from Nov. to Dec. I buy a big old bag of HUGE yellow onions from Costco. Only need to peel once and the yield d is huge. Simplifies chopping/peeling for turkey dressing, soups, etc. I also find them very useful for onion soup as you need a very large amount to reduce down during carmelization. Buy red onions for smoked salmon garnish, sometimes sweet for burgers. But the basic yellow is my staple.

                      2. I buy those same onions you're talking about and they go in everything, even salads in small quantities. I love them. Occasionally I'll get a red onion for salads and certain recipes but other than that I don't like the large white sweet onions, and I just don't bother with shallots (though I probably should)

                        1. Mexican Food: White / except for Yucatan food--red

                          French, Italian or Spainsh food: Yellow spanish

                          Salads and mild flavored risottos: shallots

                          1. Yellow Spanish onions (or Vidalia during the right time of year) almost exclusively for cooking, because they don't make me cry. For eating raw (in salads, or just because I'm weird and will sometimes munch on a bit of raw onion) I definitely prefer red. For Mexican cooking, I use white but it's a sacrifice.

                            1. I pretty much make a beeline for the Texas Sweets or the Vidalia onions, unless otherwise noted in the recipe (many specifically call for red and it does add a burst of ruby and a markedly more onion-y flavour). They are bigger, don't cause tears, and are tasty raw or cooked. Never had a problem with them caramelizing, either. Only one drawback, the price on them seems to have skyrocketed (or maybe that's with all onions, and food in general) over the past year and a half... they are about a buck a piece!

                              Don't think I've used a white or yellow onion as a standard in years, unless traveling to a place where the sweets are unavailable.

                              1. What do you all use for French Onion Soup? I had always assumed yellow, but with so many comments about red being good for caramelizing I'm beginning to rethink that.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: saltz

                                  I make a variation of French Onion, namely 'red onion marmalade' soup with red onions sliced very thin then caramelized and reduced down quite a bit, then add red wine, simmer, then chx and beef stock and simmer. Needs thyme too, sprigs or dry is fine. It's pretty tasty.

                                  1. re: saltz

                                    Don't use sweet onions in French Onion, unless you want over the top sweetness. Yellow get perfectly sweet after hour of carmelizing. I use Bouchon's 5 hour carmelization--sometime I just use 3 hours if I don't have time.

                                  2. Usually yellow onions unless something else is specified. Red onions have a distinct flavor and I never make anything with raw onions.

                                    If risotto, it's almost always shallots unless there is leftover 1/2 yellow onion that needs using.