Don’t cry for me, onion-peeler
The humble onion is the star of the show in these two dishes from Simon Hopkinson
However, what really annoyed me (a teenager, even then, could be ‘annoyed’) was that the result contributed to staff supper, rather than the paying guests. After all, the chopping was really quite good, in the end—and I wept bucketfuls, too,
As a professional cook (I have always seen myself as a cook, rather than a real chef), to deal with onions has always been a pleasure—whether it’s chopping or slicing them and cooking them in butter or stewing them intact—and the crying dries up, eventually, although I couldn’t tell you why.
Sliced wafer-thin when raw, the freshest and best-grown onion can present itself as quite something else: sweet and savoury all at once, together with an astringency that tickles the palate in the very nicest way.
Some folk, however, hugely disagree—a well-known food writer I knew years ago went so far as to say that ‘snipped chives in or on any food are an abomination’ or similar words to that effect. Each to their own, of course, but there can also be further complications, onion-wise, with, how shall we say, awkward consequences.
My friends Jane and Robert, who live in a big house in Sevenoaks, Kent, grow very good onions indeed. While staying with them over a late-september weekend about a year ago, I lovingly prepared a whole bucket of these bulbous alliums as an accompaniment to a Sunday roast lunch.
They had been left to dry and form papery skins in the gardener’s greenhouse, all laid out on special racks and ready for this cook to choose the very best of the crop.
This was quite difficult, in fact, as almost every single one was as perfect as an onion can be, but I wanted to roast them cut into quarters, so the bigger the better.
Top oven of the Aga for 10 minutes, covered, then about an hour in the bottom, until golden, sticky and nicely burnished. A triumph they were, if I may say, and were wolfed down by all, to such an extent that various fingers were greedily employed taking up remnant smearings in the bottom of the dish.
Fast forward to the 6pm cocktail hour. Robert arrived back with news from the crease: ‘Felt a bit sorry for the wicket keeper this afternoon. Rather windy out there!’ ‘Oh God, yes,’ said Jane, ‘me too.’ ‘And me,’ chimed in the eldest. ‘And me.’ ‘And me,’ repeated the younger two. I, who had enjoyed an afternoon nap, further muttered something about ‘almost needing to tether the duvet’.
‘But they were delicious,’ said Jane, ‘and, thankfully, all is calmer now.’
‘Ah, good,’ I sighed. ‘So that’s gone with the wind, is it?’