Julia Child once said, “It’s hard to imagine a civilization without onions.” I could not agree more. What is it about them? They add so much flavor to everything we eat – and we use them in so many different ways: raw, grilled, pickled and of course added to our mirepoix to flavor the base of many dishes. It’s a vegetable that dates back to the Bronze age. Egyptians buried it with their dead, Romans used it medicinally and the Europeans in the Middle Ages used them to barter. There are so many varieties with so many flavors.
Here is a little factoid about cutting an onion: did you know that it releases a gas called Propanethiol S-oxide? When mixed with certain enzymes in the onion, it creates a sulfur gas. These gases then get to your eyes and create a mild acid which irritates the eyes. So just about the only way to not cry is wear goggles.
Today I’m going to focus on the sweet variety. Within the sweets some popular ones are: Walla Walla, from Washington and Maui, from Hawaii; but these pictured above are the famous Vidalia from Georgia. They are my favorite, possibly because they are the first sweet onions I ever tasted, and I love their flavor.
Their shape is unique, round and slightly flat and this year’s crop are just appearing in the market now. Here is an interesting tidbit about how they are grown: they are started in seed beds in September and then hand planted in November, just in time to harvest now. As with other onions you want to purchase this vegetable when its nice and firm, without soft spots or green sprouts. Nutritionally they are fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free and a good source of Vitamin C. I thought it would be fun to try to use them two different ways this week. This beautiful bunch was picked up at my local grocery store a few days ago. They are just gorgeous – small and golden.
Earlier that morning I had picked up a couple of soft shell crabs from Port Chester Seafood and I also had a few portobello mushrooms in the ‘fridge. Just to mix things up I decided to season everything with something other than a typical seafood crab spice. If you’ve never been to Penzey’s you’ve got to check it out. Locally you can find them in the Palisades Mall, Norwalk, CT, and an outpost at the Grand Central Market. You can find them on line too, but if you are close enough to a retail store you must make the trek. My friend Lynn introduced me to that mecca of spice several years ago and I’ve never looked back. In addition to having basic and exotic spices they make the most wonderful blended seasonings. I’ve frequently told participants in my cooking classes at Tarry Market that using blends can be one of the easiest ways to add a lot of flavor to your cooking without getting stressed about how many herbs and spices you are trying to add. For this simple sauté I used their Northwoods spice. Its a blend of several basic spices and includes chipotle. Herbacious with a kick!
I simply sliced the onions and seasoned them with olive oil and the Northwoods blend. I did the same for the mushrooms and crabs. In a grill pan on the stove top I cooked the onions and mushrooms together. Once they were done I tossed in the crab right into the same pan and finished them. A quick and tasty dinner in less than 30 minutes!
I had in my mind to do something that could be cooked down or pureed for my second recipe. Over the weekend we celebrated Elinor’s graduation in Vermont and I headed up the cooking for a big family dinner. Grilled chicken seemed to be the most logical choice for the BBQ, so I created a little marinade that worked out beautifully. (The recipe is below.)
After grilling the onions over charcoal I blended them with a few ingredients for a lovely marinade. This recipe makes a lot, so what I ended up doing was dividing it and using the other half for my guests to drizzle over their cooked chicken, as desired.
I hope you give these zippy sweet onions a try this weekend. You simply can’t go wrong, even if you just slice and grill them for your Memorial Day BBQ.
Maria’s Vidalia Onion Marinade
Makes about 4 cups
3 medium Vidalia onions, sliced 1½ ” thick
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves only
1-2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup water, plus more if needed
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper, plus more
Chicken of your choice, with skin if possible
Drizzle the onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over hot charcoal until nicely charred. Cool slightly and place in a blender.
Add the rosemary, vinegar, oil, 1 tablespoon of sugar, water, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add a little more sugar if desired and water if it’s too thick.
Divide in half and cover your chicken, marinating for a few hours before cooking. Set the other half of the marinade aside for serving.
Cook your chicken as desired, but do try to get the skin crisped!
Maria Reina is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Port Chester, NY. In her free time she loves hanging out at local Farmers Markets in Westchester County doing cooking demos with seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.