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How do you mellow red onions

  • r

Years ago I had a recipe (or technique) for mellowing red onions. It had to do with letting ice water and onions sit together for about a day. But that alone doesn't seem to work. I have since tried sitting onions in 1 part red wine vinegar and 1 part ice water, but don't get the same results that I remember.

contains some tips for red onions, but not necessarily addressing the red onion.

Do you have a tip/trick to mellow red onions.

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  1. It sounds like you might be serving them raw. If not, I'm a big fan of the low&slow saute.

    1. Rella, try this: slice your onions as desired, and put into a strainer set over a bowl. Pour boiling water over the onions and let sit for 5 minutes or so; then drain and add ice cubes and ice water to bowl; let chill 'til crisp, pat dry and use. This has worked on any variety of onion for me, but one of the keys is to slice them first, so that you don't release more sulfuric compound (the stuff that makes you cry and tastes strong) after you've mellowed them, which is what the cutting does.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mamachef

        I like the idea of not letting the onions sit in vinegar, which gives the onions a vinegar taste. I want the onions to have the taste of onions only.

        I'm going to try this. Thanks for your help.

        1. re: Rella

          You're welcome, dear. It works!

        2. re: mamachef

          Dearest Mamachef,

          I deflamed my lonely red onion according to your good instructions (saved!) The onions will not compete with the garden arugula; salad coming up very shortly.

          My gratitude,


          1. re: Rella

            Rella, my dear:
            Thanks so much for letting me know that it worked out for that lonely only onion of yours! Enjoy your upcoming salad-fest!

        3. Even just dicing and rinsing will help. Jacques Pepin, on his show, once said that he never uses them without rinsing them post-dice.

          1. Does anyone remember hearing about soaking onions in milk? I've never done it, so I can't really comment, but that notion is sticking in my head for some reason. This is for a raw use.

            1 Reply
            1. re: nemo

              I have heard about this. My only concern is that the lactic acid might change them texturally.

            2. I've done just plain ice water.
              I use vinegar if I want to pickle them.

              1 Reply
              1. I bought a bag of onions a while back that had some tips on the back. One of them said if you like the flavor of raw onions but do not want it to be overpowering, you should rinse the chopped onions under running cold water and then allow to drain.

                1. Pickled red onions are a common condiment in Latin America. Recipes vary, but this Bayless one has the essentials: rinse or cook briefly in boiling water, then let still in lime juice and salt.


                  4 Replies
                  1. re: paulj

                    Yes, very common in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, and not just as a pretty garnish but for flavor too.
                    It would be helpful if the OP Rella would tell us the end use for the onions.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      I'll tell you soon.

                      I have always bought red onions at Costco for years, but this time of year for the last two years, they have had none, but some tiny ones.

                      I finally bought a medium sized one for double the price at a grocery store, and didn't want to waste my onion, so I thought I'd finally ask for help.

                      I'll try mammachef's recipe first with my 'one' onion.

                      Then when I buy more, I'll try paulij's Bayless recipe of lime juice and salt. I've used lime juice and salt in the past for red onions, but have not followed the "cook briefly in boiling water" instruction, which appears in both mamachef's and paulij's suggestions.

                      I'll bet that is the 'secret.'

                      1. re: Rella

                        Rella, the term for "cook briefly in boiling water" is blanching and you want to do it for under 30 seconds, or as mamachef suggests, just pour boiling water over the onions in a strainer then chill as per her instructions. Good luck, her suggestion should work just fine for you.

                        Btw, the term for mellowing onions is deflaming. Now you're a pro. ;-)

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          Thanks for the admonition re the boiling water. I must hone in on it and write it down in my file whilst I do my lonely onion.

                          "deflaming" I would never have known that - you're the pro!

                  2. When I discovered how much easier it is to work with sweet onions, I gave up on red. I'd used them for decades, but in the last few years, the stench and the tears really got to me. There's only one dish left I use red onions in, but only because it doesn't look right with yellow.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: Jay F

                      OK, Jay, are you gonna tell us what the one dish is?
                      I'm trying to visualize what it is - something where the main ingredient is white -- rice?

                      1. re: Rella

                        Yo! Rella! You haven't told us what YOUR dish is! Get with the program! You told me you would tell me soon. We are past soon!
                        I'm teasing you, of course, but you newbies get a limited time in the shallow end :)

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Ah, I see. You said: It would be helpful if the OP Rella would tell us the end "use" for the onions.

                          and I said, "I'll tell you soon."

                          I interepreted it as "tell us the end RESULT.'"

                          I am/was only trying to find out how to mellow (deflame!) red onions so they won't be so pungent hot when eating alone. I will try mamachef's excellent suggestion today - I have copied it into my files.

                        2. re: Rella

                          It's chicken en saor. The liquid marinade is onions cooked in olive oil and red wine vinegar, and non-red onions just don't look right. (This goes with breaded, pan-fried fish filets or bscbs, plus a dry marinade of parsley, pine nuts, garlic and raisins).

                            1. re: mamachef

                              It's one of my favorite foods in the whole world. No one has ever not loved the chicken version, but it was originally done with sole or flounder in the Jewish ghetto in Venice, where it originates. It held well overnight on Shabbos.

                              1. re: Jay F

                                The fish version, you mean? Holds up for Shabbos? The chicken would as well, yeah? Thanks for clarifications: I am SO making this.

                                1. re: mamachef

                                  Oh, sure, both will hold up, but it is specifically the fish dish that dates back so far. I was thinking only of the history when I wrote that about the sole.

                                  I try to make it in the morning of the day I'm going to serve it. Then I leave it out until I serve it. If I have to make it the night before, I refrigerate it overnight. Anywhere I've read about it suggests taking it out a couple of hours ahead of time to let it come to room temp, but I find it equally good cold.

                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    Thank you. This beats the hell outta cholent. : )
                                    -not that I have a fireplace deep enough or an oven that retains heat well enough to make cholent properly anyway....

                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      Well, there's cholent and then there's cholent.

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                So much so, it's the only thing I still make with red onions. And it's fun to make if you have a couple of helpers. It's easy, but a little time consuming when you make a lot.

                        3. Nigella Lawson suggests slicing them very thin and letting them sit for about half an hour or so in fresh lime juice. Not only does this mellow the bite of the onions, but it also turns them a lovely color. I have used this technique many times over the years.