One of the main ingredients in yesterday’s Moist & Savory Stuffing recipe is onions. As Jeff Cox notes in the highly recommended The Organic Cook’s Bible, “A wise cook once said that every good meal begins by chopping an onion.”
Onions are a member of the allium family, which includes shallots, garlic, leeks, chives and ramps (wild leeks). According to Cox, onions fall into two primary categories: pungent and mild. Pungent onions are best used in cooking, as opposed to being eaten raw. Mild onions (Vidalia or Maui) are erroneously thought by many to have a higher sugar content. In truth, their mildness “allows their sugar content to register on the palate, whereas the bite of the pungent types obliterates the sensation of sweetness,” Cox explains.
When buying organic onions, select firm, well-shaped bulbs with thin necks and no soft or moldy spots, Cox advises. The outer papery skins should be dry. For holiday stuffing, I prefer to use yellow onions, but I’ve occasionally substituted their white cousins (often labeled “Bermuda onions”). Avoid using frozen chopped onions, which are less flavorful.
You may be surprised to learn that organic onions often cause your eyes to tear more, as they have a higher sulfur content than their nonorganic peers, courtesy of soil enriched by compost, Cox notes. Cutting an onion releases the allicin compound, which is responsible for any culinary crying fits. The solution? Peel your onions under cool water, and splash your eyes with water (and clean, onion-free hands) to stem the teary tidal wave.
There’s one added bonus when you buy organic onions: Because they are grown without pesticides or synthetic chemicals, you can throw their skins into broths—a step that adds color and flavor. Be sure to strain the broth before serving.