Thursday, May 8, 2014

Chop-chop! How to chop onions and celery.

I've recently learned the term mirepoix - I can't recall where. It refers to the medley of celery, onions, and carrots that form the first step of many stews and soups. If you have a food processor, you probably just put them all through that, but ours has been broken for five months now, with parts on indefinite back-order, so I'm re-learning some skills and thought I'd share them with you. Just in case you end up in my situation. Or, you know, camping or at the cottage.

Also because: OCD


If you've seen Julie and Julia, the movie about Julia Child, then you will know that chopping an onion is not necessarily as intuitive as one would hope. Over the years, I've tried various techniques, and I can't promise that the one I'm recommending here is Cordon bleue-approved, but I've been doing it this way for a year or so now, and highly recommend it.

Step one: Cut your onion in half from top to bottom, and remove all dry layers of skin and any blemishes. (I should have removed at least one more layer of this onion. The blemished spot was slippery to cut and likely would be tough if cooked.)

Rinse the onion, cut-side-up under running water. This helps dilute the phosgene gas, which is what makes you cry. (It's the same chemical used in tear gas.) Also, use a really sharp knife, to keep from "squirting" the gas into your eyes.

Step two: Cut off the top only of the onion, leaving the bottom intact -- this will be your handle.

Step three: Cut each half-onion radially, but not through the root, following the subtle rib lines on the onion. Here is the key part - and I've got several pictures for you.

Here you can see how close to get to the root end.
I've highlighted the cut lines. Not perfect, but you get the idea.

Step four: Start slicing the onion, across the radial lines.

Step five: When you get close to the root, turn the root flat onto your cutting surface and chop the remaining bits.

I hate to waste any.
Even if you only need a half an onion, chop the whole thing and refrigerate the extra to save time when you next need onions. And, honestly, what worthwhile savory recipe doesn't include onions?

Rinse your board and knife before continuing with the other half-onion - this helps with the teariness as well.

Cutting your onion this way gives a relatively uniform series of small chunks of onion, which I like.


My husband showed me this trick for getting uniform bits of celery.

Step one: Using a small paring knife, trim off the ends and slice the length of the celery stalk into four strips.

I forgot to trim off the root end in this picture. Pretend I did.

This does require a little dexterity to try to make the strips roughly equal in size, as the stalk wants to bend. That's why working with a small knife is best - it's easier to maneuver.

Step two: With a chopping knife (one where your knuckles won't hit the cutting board as you chop), cut across the four strips in 1/4-inch segments.

And you're done! Again, if you're in the mood, go ahead a chop a little more than you need, so that the next dinner is faster to prepare.


I shred my carrots for use in stews and soups. If I do chop them, I use the same technique as for celery.

That's today's contribution to "lessons learned the hard way." Please share your kitchen tips with me! I'm always looking for ways to do things smarter.


  1. yeah, I'm a "toss it in the blender kinda gal" --- but the hubby would appreciate this. he's got his fancy knives and his sharpening tool. pretty sure I heard him using it before he cut a loaf of bread the other day LOL He's definitely more adept at handling knives than I. I try to do everything with these little paring knives I have and he laughs at me.

    1. Haha! I'm picturing you trying to prepare a butternut squash with a paring knife! Usually, I'm right with you on the food processor front, and it's my husband who will shred all the carrots by hand.


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