What would we do without Onions?

Can you imagine cooking without onions? Onions are members of the family that also includes garlic and chives, they are simply indispensable, adding sweet and earthy flavour to many cooked dishes and contributing a spicy accent when served raw. But even if you use them almost every time you cook, onions can still be confusing. With so many varieties available in most markets, it can be hard to know which kind of onion to select for your dish.

Because they last so long in storage once they've been harvested they are a great ingredient to provision your boat. It is also a good reason why onions are such an integral part of so many cuisines the world over. In saying this though they are not common in the Pacific Islands so if you are intending on sailing these areas in sure you carry dehydrated or freezes onion. 

Common onion varieties that I LOVE to use:

One of the most versatile onions around, scallions are long and thin. Sweet and mild with hardly any bite to them, they can be used raw or cooked and fit right in to any number of dishes. Scallions provide a gentle onion flavour. They are crunchy and juicy at the same time. The dark green tops have a bit more bite to them, best used as an topper as you would fresh chives or parsley. The white sections should be firm and bright, without any moisture or sliminess, and the tops should be sturdy. Don't store fresh scallions in a plastic bags: their high moisture content will quickly lead to rot. We wrap them in paper towel put them reusable veggie bags in a crisper container in the fridge. If your scallions still have roots, trim them slightly, stick 'em in a glass jar you've filled with a couple centimetres of water, they will continue to shoot. Along with garlic and ginger, scallions are indispensable to Stir-fries and salads.

Though spring onions look like scallions in appearance and flavor, they're actually just very young storage onions that are pulled out of the ground at an early, when they're still mild in flavour.  Just like scallions in appearance, white bottoms and dark green tops, but with a bulb at the bottom, instead of completely straight. They are still mild in flavour, but have just a little bit more spiciness to them when eaten raw. When cooked, they're tender and sweet. We store by rolling spring onions in paper towel, secured with a rubber band, and store in a crisper container, in the fridge. They will also continue to grow in a little water in a glass jar. Grilled spring onions are lovely, charred yet sweet, tender but crisp. Lightly oil the onions including tops,  grill over charcoal until soft, and serve with dipping sauce. Spring onions also take wonderfully to pickling, try them spooned over hot dogs as an alternative to sauerkraut.


Ramps are wild spring leeks that have a pungent garlic-onion flavor in their base, which softens and becomes mild in the leaves. Kind of look like scallions, but with large, broad, flat bright-green leaves up top. The slender white bottom sections often have a dash of bright purple or magenta joining them to the leaves. A cross between garlic and onions, with a pronounced funk. The edible tops are notably milder and sweeter than the bulbs at the bottom. Their bottom sections should be firm, never slimy, and the tops should be bright without any wilting. Ramps don't store super well, but will keep in the refrigerator for a few days in reusable vegetable bags. Cook them on the BBQ Pickle them,  Put  in your Chorizo Quesadilla, Add to frittatas. Make ramps into soup with fresh asparagus, Cook up as a risotto and makes a great herb butter.


Yellow Onions are undoubtedly the worlds most common, nearly 90 percent of onions grown are yellow. Their deep but not-too-strong flavor makes them endlessly versatile in cooking.  Ranging in size from golf ball to softball, with light yellow flesh and golden, papery skin. Quite strong in taste when raw, deeply sweet when cooked. Yellow onions are available year-round: in summer they taste sweeter, with their sharpness intensifying through the winter months. Look for firm, unbruised onions that are heavy for their size. If you plan on using your bulb onions within a few weeks, they can be stored at cool room temperatures in a dark place: an open basket or a bamboo steamer in a cooler part of the galley works. If you plan on storing them longer, wrap them individually in paper towels or place them in a breathable basket in a dark cool place. Cut or peeled onions can be stored, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for only a few days before they go mushy. You can cut a freeze onions which will last for months. Yellow onions are ideal for long-cooking in soups, stews and braises, and of course are sticky and delicious when caramelised.
Is there a difference between white and yellow onions? The white onions are somewhat sweeter and cleaner in flavor, but don't store quite as well as yellow onions do. Ranging in size from tennis ball to softball, with white flesh and bright white, papery skin. Milder in flavour than yellow onions, white onions can be eaten raw. White onions are available year-round and taste the same throughout the seasons. Look for firm, unbruised onions that are heavy for their size. Bulb onions should be stored in a dark, cool, dry location. Because of their crisp texture and mild flavour, white onions are great raw slivered in salads, thinly sliced on your favourite sandwich, or scattered over a pizza. Popular in Latin American cuisines, white onions are a great addition to  heuvos rancheros , refried beans, and Cuban Picadillo . Feel free to sub them for yellow onions in cooked dishes, too.

Though they can be spicy, red onions (sometimes called Spanish Onion) are great for eating raw, bringing crunchiness and brightness to a variety of dishes. Ranging in size from golf ball to tennis ball with bright maroon flesh and dark red, papery skin. Strong and spicy when raw, but sweeter, when cooked. Red onions are available year-round: in summer, when they haven't been in storage long, they taste sweeter, with their sharpness developing through the winter months. Look for firm, unbruised onions that are heavy for their size. Bulb onions should be stored in a dark, cool, dry location; see advice for yellow onions. Red onions take extraordinarily well to pickling, whether they're destined for topping tacos and pizza, and try them in a salad with cherry tomatoes and capsicum. We also love red onion jam as a burger topping or spread on crackers.

Where would we be without shallots? They're often seen in French cuisine, where they're featured in classic sauces such as Mignonette. They're also absolutely necessary  to Asian dishes. They are often crisp fried or ground into curry pastes. Shallots are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Western shallots, the kind you're most likely to encounter in a supermarket, are small, slender and lighter in colour than red onions, with pinkish-orangey papery skin and light purple flesh. In an Asian market, you might find Asian shallots, which are very small and deep dark purple. Mild in flavour than red onions, but more assertive than yellow, with a hint of garlic flavour. Available year-round, shallots' flavour intensifies throughout their winter storage. Look for firm, compact shallots with shiny, unblemished skin. Kept dry and stored in a cool, dark area of the galley, like the bilge, shallots will keep for several months. Thinly sliced and fried golden for topping Thai curried noodles, congee, or devil eggs; minced into basic vinegars for added crunch and flavour. We love them roasted under any meats.

Tiny and sweet, pearl onions come in yellow, red, and white varieties, with the latter being the most common. These babies look just like regular onions but are about the size of a almond. They are milder and sweeter than large bulb onions.  Pearl onions are sold year-round, usually in small mesh bags—they're not easy to find loose, and can be difficult to find altogether, so frozen, pre-peeled bags of pearl onions are an appealing option. If buying fresh, store as you would large bulb onions. The biggest problem using fresh pearl onions is peeling them: to do so quickly and easily, blanch them, then slip off the skins with your fingers. After that, simply glaze them, cream them in a bubbly gratin, or pickle them. They're lovely roasted in Balsamic, too.

Cippolini are little disc-shaped yellow onions, which might remind some people of visitors from outer space, were once reserved for the world of gourmet stores and fancy restaurants, but nowadays are pretty widely available in large supermarkets. Slightly larger than pearl onions, with a squat disc shape and pale yellow skin and are extra sweet. Cippolini are sold year-round, sometimes in mesh bags. Store in a cool, dark place. Because of their high sugar content, cippolini take wonderfully to caramelising or roasted all on their own.

Leeks look a lot like scallions, but in fact they're a totally different plant. Larger in size than their spring counterparts, leeks' white portions are tender and sweet, but their dark green tops are woody and best reserved for flavouring stocks. They are mild, with a pronounced sweetness. Because they're so fibrous, leeks aren't eaten raw. Leeks have been bred to survive the winter months, and are in season from late autumn to early spring. Leeks can be pretty gritty and sandy: be sure to wash carefully before cooking. If you need to store them, trim off a portion of the dark green tops, wrap in paper towel placed in a reusable veggie bag and store in the fridge for up to two and a half weeks. Leeks melt into wonderful softness when cooked. One of the most appealing ways to cook them is braised in olive oil, then dressed with a lemony vinaigrette. Leek Soup  is an economical winter warmer, and in any Stirfry is delicious. When caramelised they are lovely under BBQed fish.

One of my favourite ways to cook onions is by Caramelising them. 

Most people say it is difficult. It's not a difficult process it's more that you need time. 

Caramelising onions, by slowly cooking them in a little olive oil until they are richly browned, is a wonderful way to pull flavour out of the simplest of ingredients. Onions are naturally sweet; and as caramel comes from the simple cooking of sugar, when you slowly cook onions over an extended period of time, the natural sugars in the onions caramelise, making the result intensely and wonderfully flavourful.

Few things will enhance the flavour of your dish quite like caramelised onions. You can use onions prepared this way on top of steak, or for onion soup, tarts, pizza, or a simple onion dip. Or you can do what I did with this batch, eat it straight up. These tender, candy-sweet, yet savoury delights, turn anything from a burger to a bowl of fresh pasta into something instantly, delicious. Caramelising onions in your galley is easy to do. All you need is a few onions, butter, a pan, and some time.

What are your favorite dishes to make that use caramelised onions? Please let us know in the comments.

 Here is our way of cooking Caramelised Onions ..... Enjoy!

You can't rush true caramelized onions. Turn up the heat and they burn. Add brown sugar or balsamic too early, and they may look like caramelised onions, but they'll lack that deeply caramelised, savoury flavour.

The only way is to grab your biggest pan, set a burner to medium heat, and let those amazing alliums cook slooooow. At this temperature, the sugars in trapped inside the onion layers caramelise steadily, never burning but growing ever more golden and delicious.

Don't feel that you have to hover by the stove. Once the onions are going, check on them every 5 or 10 minutes to give them a stir and see how things are coming along. Scrape up the sticky residue that builds up on the bottom of the pan and stir it into the onions. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep them cooking at a steady pace, but avoid burning. Let your nose and your tastebuds be your judge .....  when you can't resist eating them straight out of the pan, they're done.

I usually cook 3 or 4 big onions at once, which takes about an hour. You can shave off some time by cooking just 1 or 2 onions, but I figure the more the merrier: if I have the time, I might as well make enough to last for a while. Caramelised onions will keep just fine in the fridge for around a week, but they also freeze beautifully. Freeze them in little portion-sized patties so you can grab what you need for a sauce or a sandwich topping when you need it.

The Onions
Any onion will caramelize, so don't be shy about experimenting. Yellow onions tend caramelise the most readily and be the most versatile in dishes. Red onions are fun for their deep purple color and are great on pizzas and salads. 

The Skillet
I highly recommend using a stainless steel or cast iron skillet when caramelizing onions.  Part of what makes these onions so special is the sticky residue that builds up on the bottom of the pan .... scraping this up and stirring it into the onions gives them an even richer flavour ....  and this won't form in a nonstick skillet.

The sticky Residue
Let's talk about that! As the onions cook and release steam, some of their sugars get transferred to the bottom of the pan. It looks like the pot is burning, but don't worry! It's not! This sticky glaze will quickly dissolve with a little liquid. At the beginning of cooking, the steam from the onions as you stir is enough to scrape up the fond; as they become more dry and caramelized, you can deglaze the pan with a little water, broth, wine, or balsamic vinegar.

Using Caramelized Onions

So you've made caramelized onions — now what? What you have in your skillet is the makings for some very tasty dishes! Pile a spoonful of caramelized onions on slices of baguette for a quick appetizer. Stir a scoop into soups, stir-fries, casseroles, pasta sauces, or braised dishes. They can go on top of pizza, layered onto burgers and sandwiches, or added to salads. I have trouble thinking of any dish that couldn't use some caramelized onions!

Do you regularly caramelise onions? What are your favourite ways to use them?

Extra Provisioning ..... Here are the alternatives to fresh onions?

Dried Onions, Onion Powder and Frozen Onions are always an alternative, especially if provisioning is running low and you need to keep fresh onion for those dishes requiring it. There are many brands of dried and powdered onion on the market but of course you can always make your own. Here is a great site that lists three ways of drying onions. Drying Onions 

Onions store well if frozen. They are not suitable for fresh uses such as salads, but are great if you are cooking them. We slice ours and cryovac prior to freezing.


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