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Peeling Onions by the bushel

Normally I just peel an onion or two for supper and don't even think about it. I just do it.
But today I decided to make a huge batch of Caramelized Onions. After peeling 10lbs worth, I said to myself, "self....there has to be a better way"
Any ideas?

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  1. If you hear, please please pass them on. I made onion soup enough for 3 pots for the salvation army. I volunteer 1 a month. I made 3 f gallon buckets. Talk about onions. I lost count of how many. It took 5 of us forever to peel them all.

    Someone had got to have a better way. I agree billieboy, making soup just for me is bad enough, this was a test!

    1. Cold onions, a very sharp knife and quick chopping.

      4 Replies
      1. re: alwayscooking

        Oh, it's not the chopping that bothers me, in fact I enjoy food prep, it's the damned peeling of them. Like I said, not one or two, but 10 lbs....boooooring.

        1. re: billieboy

          ? Do you peel after taking the top off and halving - seems like the easy part. If peeling whole, that would be a dull run - choose some good background music.

          1. re: alwayscooking

            I did, still just a pain, I used a mandolin (sp?) to slice, Need a few hundred) That was the easy part

        2. These are all things I figured out for myself, but have since seen in Cooks Illustrated:
          1. Refrigerating the unpeeled onions first keeps them from causing teary eyes when
          they are cut.
          2. If peeling an onion before cutting, start at the stem end, not the root. Grab the tip of
          a stem and pull it back to get started.
          3. It's easier to peel if you first halve the onion from pole to pole. Then start at the stem
          end and pull back to the root end, but do not tear the peel off. You can then anchor the
          root end to the cutting board by holding down the bunch of peel as you chop, dice or
          slice the onion. This keeps your fingers well clear of the knife blade and allows you
          to cut right up to the root.
          4. Although smelly bags of supermarket frozen onions will spread off-flavors to other
          food in your home freezer, when you chop your own onions and freeze them in a
          freezer-weight baggie, this doesn't happen. I like the convenience of having ready-to-
          cook onions instantly at hand. Because freezing breaks cell walls, they cook faster
          right from the freezer than they do freshly-cut.
          5. When I buy a big bag of onions, after prepping I freeze some raw, sauteeing the rest.
          I'll remove some to freezer containers when they are just getting golden, and
          continue the rest to caramelized before making soup and/or freezing them in small
          amounts. Because of the oil, they don't freeze rock-hard, so it's easy to pry some out
          with a fork when I want to add it to a sauce, sandwich, or whatever.

          If all else fails, make someone else do it! At times like these I wish I had kids rather than dogs. Then again, a kid will balk at eating your steak gristle and burnt toast ;-)

          1 Reply
          1. re: greygarious

            This was 15 gallons of soup onion for the salvation army. I picked the onions up between jobs, no time to prep or do anything. I had 5 homeless people helping. and no where to refrigerate. And the knifes, where whatever was available. So no pick and choose here. Needless to say it came out good, took a while but good carmelization just butter for a long time on a flat top grill. Added some sherry, broth, seasoning and we grilled 50 loafs of baguettes. Also fresh slices of some good swiss already melted on the grilled bread. This way they just heat the bread and drop on the warm soup. My contribution. I have a friend at the market and he donates 1/2 and I donate the other half. Have a friend at Publix market too and helps with the cheese and broth. My way on contributing to the community. I do this 4 times a year and volunteer the other months just 1x per month handing out food. Nice way to give back and I write it off as donations. It is as much as people think and it helps. It's not a whole dinner but it is more than some eat in a whole day. Anything can help. I got out local Sams club to donate 100 hams one weekend to go with my soup and a local vendor to donate mashed potatoes and another for hundreds of pounds of fresh corn when in season. Gourmet to most.
            Well, I'm way off subject, my apologies. Just a passion of mine.

            Well onions are still a pain in the a*s to clean and peel.

          2. My friend who has a hot dog wagon does 50 lbs at a time. He looked into the restaurant style machines, especially because he has arthritis, but the cheapest ones were $200. Don't know how desperate (or rich) you are, though! Just google onion peeler if you want.

            1. Soaking the onions in water overnight makes them easy to peel.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Channa

                Hadn't heard that one but it certainly makes sense. Thanks! I've got a bag waiting for me and will try this.

                1. re: Channa

                  Commercial processors wet the onions, makes the papery skins easier to remove.

                2. My method is wasteful, but quick. I cut off the tops and bottoms, then make a slit (from top to bottom) cutting through the skin, and the first layer of onion. Peel off, and continue to slice the onion. As I said, wasteful, but gets through the chore quickly.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: critter101

                    I saw Tyler Florence slit the top layer of onion from top to bottom and have done that, too, ever since. A bit wasteful, but so much faster it's worth it.

                    But I never cut off the root end. You need the root to hold the onion together if you're going to make horizontal and vertical cuts in order to chop or mince it quickly.

                    1. re: JoanN

                      That's pretty much my method too -- but I don't understand what part of it is wasteful. I core out the "gathers" at the top, then slit down around the first layer and pop it off.

                      I nearly always find that the first fleshy layer (the one I discard) is at least partly turned into paper. After I take it off, I usually salvage the edible part if it's over 2/3 of the whole layer. Much less than that and I don't bother.

                      Maybe I don't funny understand what you mean.

                      1. re: dmd_kc

                        Because I cut off the first layer (sometimes it's not papery at all), and the top and bottom, there's some of the onion that's discarded. Some people consider that a waste. When I peel potatoes, I cut off the top and bottom, and use a paring knife to peel the rest. Again, it wastes some of the product, but for me, it's worth the time saved.

                        1. re: critter101

                          Gotcha. Not much waste, in my book. Certainly nothing like the "right" way to core a bell pepper, or how most people discard the stem from broccoli or artichokes. Now THAT's waste.

                          1. re: dmd_kc

                            At cooking school my teacher, who was frugal and hated waste, said, "Onions are cheap." As in: lose that first layer or two, and don't sweat it.

                      1. re: critter101

                        Doesn't have to be wasteful. I do the same thing but toss the otherwise wasted parts in my freezer bag of vegetable trimmings for stock.

                        1. re: critter101

                          I do the same....cut off one end (don't normally care which) and then cut the other **almost** all the way through and kind of pull the end off which starts the peeling part...

                        2. I invite friends over, get them started "helping" peel the onions, then call my house phone from my cell phone and tell them to keep peeling until I get back. When I get back, I serve them Kleenex (for their rears) coffee and cookies. '-)

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Caroline1

                            <Kleenex (for their rears)> ....... and when watching 'Old Yeller", a roll of Charmin next to the remote? ;-D

                            1. re: greygarious

                              LOL~ i REALLY DO need to learn how to proof read!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                I can relate, lost my glasses, I'm hurting. Glad I'm a pretty good typist LOL

                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                  hehehehehehehehehehehe took me a while to figure that out. "What are her friends doing with their rears? Why is coffee required?" heheheheh

                            2. re: Caroline1

                              That I could of used. These guys (homeless but so sweet and willing to do anything were SOOOOO slow. It took forever. We had some hundred bags ... There were a lot!! I kept saying I need to check on something or I need to go to the bathroom, any excuse I could make I tried just to get away. We had a fan, running water, just about anything LOL We were all crying. It was so funny we were crying and laughing at the same time. The guys said it was the most fun they had in years. I guess ... all worth just for that compliment.

                              It really makes you think when a bowl of soup is a whole days meal for them and makes them so happy just to peel onions and for others a $300 dollar kitchen appliance or pan. No disrespect to anyone, please. I just meant it as a reality check and really makes you think what is important in life. One of the guys was a banker who came from a extremely wealthy family and gave it all up. Left it all for nothing. Funny how peeling onions made him so happy. And he, I will have help again. He was a good peeler unlike my other 4 helpers. He was the onion king!!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Caroline1, I know you meant "tears", not "rears" but that was the perfect typo!!!

                                1. re: critter101

                                  I'm wondering if I'd make fewer typos if I cleared my desk? Or maybe just replaced the batteries in my cordless keyboard? '-)

                              2. Just an update on the Caramelized Onions. It was worth the agony of peeling them. Just had a taste of them after 16hrs in the slow cooker. OMG OMG OMG they are good.
                                Peeling or not, this is now standard repertoire.

                                1. Haven't done this myself, but I saw somewhere (maybe here on CH) the suggestion that you wear swim goggles while tackling onions. Makes sense to me.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Sharuf

                                    Chef Central sells Onion-goggles! I bought one last year, they really work! No tears!

                                  2. Using cold water helps.. Put a piece of bread in your mouth leave half in half out while u peel the onions... Try it

                                    1. Use the biggest onions you can find (I'm talking softball-size). Then there are fewer of them to peel! Jumbo-sized whites are my favorites. Bonus: IMO, they make the BEST caramelized onions because the rings are thicker than smaller onions.

                                      1. Hey Billieboy,

                                        when breaking down large quantities of onions I prefer the two step.

                                        With a 3 -4 inch paring knife, cut away the tops and roots then remove the paper with the top layer of flesh. Next slice, dice or otherwise cut the onion into pieces suitable for what I'm making.

                                        1. Here in Los Angeles we have the produce mart downtown and can buy large quanities of peeled onions or potatoes. Alternatively, what I do when I need large quantities of chopped onion, I go to Smart and Final and buy the 3 pound bags of chopped onion which is very fresh, and I don't have to peel or chop. Lot's of times I brown several bags of onions, and then freeze in smaller containers so I always have them. I found that I put the onions in a large roasting pan with some oil put it in the oven and come back once an hour or so and stir. This way it takes a little longer, but I don't have to stand over them.

                                          1. i always tell mr. alka when i'm peeling and chopping lots of onions, that "cutting onions is a labor of love."

                                            it is easiest for me to:
                                            1. cut off non-root end.
                                            2. cut in half, lengthwise, through the root end (which will serve to hold the onion together when you start into step 4).
                                            3. peel off the skin, by holding edge of knife under edge of skin, and pulling back, holding skin with my thumb down against the skin, with the knife on the other side.
                                            4. slice with cut side down, by slicing perpindicular to cutting board, radiating away from the root end, then cut onion from the non-root end, about half-way from the top curve of the onion, holding flat hand on top of semi-sliced onion, and cutting toward the root end. then discard root end. and chop, mince.

                                            process all the onions in the first step, before moving on to the second/next step. it goes faster.

                                            1. There's a Chow Tip video about dealing with the tears-in-the-eyes issue: http://www.chow.com/stories/10842

                                              Doesn't help speed things up but should make it more pleasant while you're peeling.

                                              1. Once upon a time in the dark ages I worked in a professional kitchen. Started out as a prep cook, and one of the daily jobs was to peel and slice 50# bags of onions for onion soup. Here's the method I was taught:

                                                Dump out the bag into the sink and cover with cold water. Grab an onion and slice off the blossom end. Set the onion on the cut surface and cut in half through the root. Get a bit of skin and flesh between your thumb and the heel of your knife and pull it off in one motion. Lay flat, slice, repeat.

                                                The key is that the entire skin has to come off in one quick motion. If you're fiddling around, you haven't grabbed a thick enough layer. Yes, you'll end up pulling off some edible flesh, but unless you do you'll be there all day. And if you use the peelings for stock, they don't go to waste.

                                                15 Replies
                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                  Oh thank you Alan. I know that peeling off the first layer with the skin is the quickest way but I hate to waste food. You mentioned saving that for stock.....now my conscience is clear :-)
                                                  Why didn't I think of that!!!!

                                                  1. re: billieboy

                                                    You're welcome! Onion skins, carrot peelings, celery leaves, mushroom stems, chicken carcasses - that's not garbage, it's stock waiting to happen. And once the stock is done, I strain off the solid matter, mash it up, and feed it to the dogs. Zero waste (except what has to be picked up in the back yard) and everybody's happy.

                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                      Yes, I save all that stuff in the freezer. You might want to research dogs and onions.

                                                        1. re: translucent

                                                          An earlier poster said that when he made soup stock, he would strain it and feed the solids to his dogs. The stock included the remains of his onions and two of us stated he should research about dogs and onions.
                                                          Here is an article about foods we should not be feeding our dogs~ :~)

                                                          1. re: Awwshucks

                                                            Ah, thank you very much. I had no idea.

                                                            1. re: translucent

                                                              also garlic, grapes, raisins. google plants toxic to pets.

                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                        Never thought of saving the peels for stock! Thanks for the tip! I do agree with InspectorJon about the dogs and onions.
                                                        I learned a good tip from another chef: It was to leave the root end intact; peel back the skin and that bit of greenish flesh; make vertical slices going from the top to just before the root- Now turn the onion and chop horizontally and stop just ahead of the root end. You will find that stopping short of the roots will prevent the gases from the onion to burn your eyes!
                                                        I was amazed to find how well this works! If doing a lot of onions, I will also burn a candle nearby. That also helps!

                                                      2. re: billieboy

                                                        Another clear conscience here! Of course, since I consider onions a basic food group, I may need a second freezer....

                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                          The second freezer option has crossed my mind more than once. Both my freezer and fridge freezer a crammed. Have to eat more and buy less. (But honey!!!! it's on sale!!!)

                                                          1. re: billieboy

                                                            My dilemma as well! I often have to work to prevent an avalanche from my freezer! It just isn't big enough, nor does it have many shelves!

                                                            1. re: Awwshucks

                                                              I have an upright, but if I got another it would be a chest. I'm lucky I haven't broken any toes so far!

                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                I'm a veteran of many broken plastic and glass "bombs" flying off freezer shelves. Got my heart set on one of the new designs for the next one, the one with a couple of bottom drawers! I mean, what's the point of making stock if you can't either find it or it breaks? Me, I'm too forgetful these days to buy a chest freezer unless I can keep an inventory on the lid. I also have vivid memories of a huge chest freezer from my childhood, when once a year my mom would dive in and find meat wrapped in butcher paper that nobody remembered was there. Good think about them is that they have such huge capacities that you can buy a quarter side of meat and then some. For me, I'd probably get an upright with a bunch of shelves so I can actually find things--and if I can't see it, I'd bet a paycheck I won't remember it's there! Ah, the memory of youth!

                                                                1. re: blaireso

                                                                  I do keep a detailed running inventory, it's a necessity.

                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                    I'd probably do the same, taped to the lid so I wouldn't lose THAT!

                                                    2. I have to peel and dice over 50pds of onions at least one a week..It does not get better or easier for me..Ihave tried the onion goggles and those don't fit my head. What seemed to help me was to peel and chop them as soon as they come off the truck

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: shortyjordy

                                                        My contact lens are a godsend, when I cut onions without I am always caught by surprise how unpleasant it can be. They do sell contact that aren't prescription, could be worth it for some people.

                                                        1. re: coll

                                                          I used to be able to cut onions without a single tear thanks to my contacts. Then I had Lasik done and now I have to wear onion goggles : (

                                                      2. I just have my maid do - she is wonderful with onions!

                                                        1. The only way I've discovered is to bring it all outdoors with you. Have a throwaway pot and a finished product pot and a chopping board and a knife, and everything you will need. If there's a slight breeze, that's even better. It works extremely well.

                                                          1. It also works to wear a scuba mask like a snorkeling thing for the pool, too, and it has the advantage of looking extremely entertaining, too.

                                                            1. I use a slightly different peeling method.
                                                              1) Cut the onion in half, pole to pole.
                                                              2) Cut out the stem end-- not with a flat cut, but with a v-notch cut: turn the onion half so the cut side is up on the cutting board, tilt it slightly with one hand, then make the v-notch cut. In other words, I cut into the exposed flat side, not the outer peel side, down into the board (not in the air)
                                                              3) I do this cut quickly, so it's not perfect. That means the two cuts of the V don't completely match up on the peel side. Thus, when I go to pull out the notched chunk, some of the outer peel goes with it. That makes it much easier to peel, since getting the peel started is usually the cumbersome part.

                                                              This method also gives you less waste (a flat cut to remove the stem end removes more useable onion than a V-notch).

                                                              If the description doesn't make complete sense, just try it. You'll see.

                                                              1. I peel and chop onions under the stove exhaust fan - no tears!

                                                                1. I soak my onions in cold water before I cut them and throw them back in the cold water after I chop them to my desired size. Voila - No Tears!!!

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: ColoffulOne

                                                                    I agree. My MOL taught me over 40 years ago to refrigerate them, then cut in half and rinse the cut side under cold water. Use a sharp knife and cut the stem end off, score down the side and peel the onion. Sometimes you have to resort back to water, sometimes remove one outer layer of onion. I still use my trusty MAC knife for this chore, its blade is so thin that it tends to bruise the onion less, thus fewer tears. Also, if I'm doing a LOT of onions, I also burn a couple of candles on the counter top, probably within a foot of the cutting board. Tears are caused by the onion juices volatilizing in the air up towards your face, and the candles help mitigate this.

                                                                    And keep the skins along with excess onion layers, they give chicken broth a lovely color.

                                                                  2. If you *quarter* the onions before peeling them, you can cut almost all the way through the root end to the skin, and pull the peel off with a knife, in one fluid motion. Renders them a perfect size for the FP feed tube, if you use the biggest onions you can find.

                                                                    1. A sharp knife is the key for slicing onions.