On the Chopping Block: Onions and Shallots

I’m still feeling jet lagged from my whirlwind trip to San Francisco for Blogher Food. It was great to meet so many twitter friends. This week I’m introducing a new contributor at In Jennie’s Kitchen.  It is all my pleasure to announce that Jen Schall, from My Kitchen Addiction, has come on board as an intern. Remember that quickfire challenge on Top Chef testing technique skills? Well, Jen’s how-to on chopping onions will have you on your way to winning immunity.

And one more thing before I go. Want to win $10,000 towards getting more fresh-grown fruits and vegetables in your local school? Hidden Valley Ranch is giving you just that opportunity with their Love Your Veggies program, and twitter folks have an extra special chance to win too. Get the details here. And now, let’s talk onions with Jen Schall.

Few things are more impressive than watching a skilled chef slice and dice through veggies with speed and precision. While we may not all have the flashy skills of an Iron Chef, it is still important to understand how to use a knife properly in the kitchen. Even as a home cook, almost every dish starts out with chopping, dicing, slicing or mincing.

One of most common knife skills that seems to give a lot of people some trouble is dicing an onion.  Anytime you turn on the TV, you are likely to see an advertisement for some gadget that claims to effortlessly dice an onion with easy cleanup.  I have one of those gadgets, too – my chef’s knife!

Put down the phone, and don’t order now…  With a little bit of practice, you’ll be dicing onions with ease. (And mincing shallots, too.  We’ll get to that.)  Plus, what can be easier to clean than a knife and cutting board?

Before getting started, make sure you have a good sharp knife and a stable cutting board.  Both are essential for your safety.


To begin, slice the onion in half lengthwise, from the stem end of the onion to the root end of onion.  Place the onion cut-side down on the cutting board, and trim off the stem (about an inch or so).  Peel off the papery outside layers of the onion, leaving the root end intact.

Once you have halved and peeled the onion, you are ready to begin dicing.  There are basically three steps to dicing an onion – planks, sticks, and cubes.  First, keeping your fingers on the top of the onion , make horizontal cuts, parallel to your cutting board from the stem end of the onion towards the root.  Be careful not to cut through the root of the onion – leaving the root intact will hold the onion together as you cut, making the dicing process much easier!  The horizontal cuts form the planks in the onion.  For a typical medium-sized onion, I make 2-3 horizontal cuts.


The next step is to cut the planks into sticks.  Make vertical cuts lengthwise through the onion by placing the tip of the knife just in front of the root and cutting straight down through the planks.  Once again, be sure to leave the root end intact. The vertical cuts will run lengthwise from the root end of the onion to the stem end of the onion, forming long sticks, and the stem end of the onion will look like a checkerboard.

Finally, the sticks get cut into cubes.  Turn the onion on the cutting board so that the stem end faces towards the hand holding the knife.  Hold the onion by the root end with your free hand, tucking your fingers under.  Make cuts across the onion, parallel to the flat stem end of the onion, cutting off the ends of sticks into small cubes.  When finished, you will have a nicely diced onion, and be left with only the root end of the onion, which can be discarded.


Once you have mastered dicing an onion, you can apply the same technique to mincing shallots.  To mince a shallot, you go through the same steps as you do to dice an onion on a smaller scale.  First, cut the shallot in half lengthwise from the stem to the root.  Then, place the shallot cut-side down on the board, trim off the stem end, and peel back the papery layers.  Proceed to make small, precise cuts through the plank, stick, and cube steps outlined above.


  • Reeni

    I love chopping onions and veggies. It’s one of my favorite parts of cooking. It has therapeutic properties or something, like baking. Great post Jen!

  • holly

    it’s a radial vegetable! no need for both horizontal and vertical slices. just halve the veg and concentrically slice to the center…safer and saves so much time…oh children and their food network shows…

  • Michael Harp

    Agreed. The horizontal cuts are unnecessary, and actually make it more difficult to make a proper cut. Also, the vertical cuts should be in a radial pattern, as Holly suggests. Now, be sure to sear your meat so that you seal in the juices… 🙂 I am always amazed by all the misinformation perpetuated on these cooking shows by ‘professional chefs’…