Why do a restaurant's onions always seem to taste sweeter?

ASK THE CHEF

March 24, 2002|By Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan | Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Q. Why do onions on hoagies and at salad bars always taste so much better (sweeter and milder) than the ones I buy? Is there something special that restaurants do to onions that I don't know about? Do they let them sit or soak them in water?

A. No, restaurants do not have a military secret about onions, pre-soaked or otherwise. I do have two theories about why you think restaurant onions taste better:

No. 1, you didn't have to slice them. Things always taste better when someone else does the work. It always cracks me up when people say something like, "I make pasta at home all the time, but I can never make it the way I had it in Florence." No kidding! Not only did someone make it for you over there, but you also ate it in a picturesque little trattoria where they could have served you cat food and you would have loved it.

No. 2, many restaurants, especially delis and those with salad bars, use commercial slicers. These extremely sharp machines can slice onions paper-thin, which keeps the juices and sugars in the onions.

Jim Coleman is executive chef at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, a cookbook author and host of television and radio cooking shows. Candace Hagan is a food writer and cookbook author.

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