For onions on the grill, X marks the spot

April 18, 1999|By Rob Kasper

MY FAVORITE WAY to cook onions has been to burn them over a hot fire on the barbecue grill. I have become very good at this. As the onions blacken, they sweeten. But, recently, I widened my repertoire and tried a new onion-cooking technique. I sliced them with a distinctive cut, cooked them on the grill and topped them off with a sauce made with tarragon and mustard.

For me, the hardest part about cooking onions has been remembering to put them on the grill in time. It takes about 45 minutes to cook a whole onion.

Usually, just as I am about to take the hamburgers off the grill, it dawns on me that what the meat really needs is some grilled onions. By then, my only course of action is to cut off a thin slice of onion, gingerly place it on the grate, and hope that as it cooks for 5 to 10 minutes it doesn't come apart and fall into the coals.

Another key to cooking onions is preventing them from falling in the fire. I have found that the larger the piece of onion on the grill, the smaller the chance it will end up in the coals. Consequently, I often try to cook onions that are about the size of small watermelons. It takes a long time to cook an onion that size, even when you have a strong fire.

It turns out that another trick to saving the onion from the fire is to keep the root ends, or tips, intact. If you don't disturb the tips, the onion ends act like locks, holding the many layers of skin in place. But if you disturb the tips, onions start peeling faster than dancers on The Block.

So the other night, I carefully removed the dry outer layers of a couple of onions, but I didn't touch the tips. Next, I picked up a sharp knife and, starting slightly above the lower tip of the onion, made an X in the flesh. I stopped the X about 1 inch short of the other tip of the onion.

In this splayed position, the onions cooked faster. But the tips were still intact, so nothing hit the fire.

The X'd onions were evenly cooked. And they had that surprising sweetness. The mustard sauce was pretty tangy, almost tart. I am not sure I prefer sauced-up onions to plain old onions burned on the barbecue. But I do like X'ing onions.

Slow-Cooked Onions with Tarragon- Mustard Sauce

Serves 4

4 yellow onions

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper


2 tablespoons white wine or tarragon vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/4 teaspoon salt

ground black pepper to taste

To make the sauce, whisk vinegar and mustard together in small bowl. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking constantly to form a smooth, creamy sauce. Whisk in tarragon, salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Peel onions, making sure to keep layers intact at root ends. Using a sharp knife, slice an X into each onion, stopping within an inch of the root ends. In a large bowl, toss the onions with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Using indirect cooking, cook them in a kettle grill with vents open half way, until they are tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 45-50 minutes. Transfer onions to platter and drizzle with sauce.

-- From "Outdoor Cooking" (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library, 1997)

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