Onions are one of the most versatile ingredients you can find, but you can certainly get too much of a good thing. If you're not careful, they can overpower your meal instead of playing a mellow, savory supporting role. Don't panic, though. There are ways to subdue that over-the-top onion flavor – even in a meal that's already finished – and some easy steps to take so it won't happen again next time.
If you've got way too much onion flavor in your finished dish, but still have some time to fix things, your best bet is just to stretch the meal. That's actually a win-win: Not only do you salvage today's meal, but now you'll have extra portions you can freeze for a convenient meal-in-a-hurry option on another day. How you stretch it and how much you stretch depend on the meal. Sometimes you can just make a whole second batch without the onions and then combine it with your original batch. If that's not feasible, add more sauce, more starches – plain potatoes, rice and pasta are good at slurping up excess flavors – or more of your chosen protein to fight that aggressive onion flavor to a standstill.
Deceive the Palate
Occasionally bulking up your recipe isn't a practical option, especially when you're dealing with raw onions rather than cooked. In those cases, your better alternative for relaxing that onion flavor might be to distract your taste buds with something else. Try adding a tart ingredient to your meal, like lemon juice or tomatoes to a sauce or a nice wine vinegar to your salad. Another possibility is to use dairy products, which calm the burn of spicy ingredients pretty effectively. Depending on the meal, a spoonful of cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream or their nondairy equivalents can come to the rescue. With a salad, you can also elect to switch from vinaigrette to a creamy dressing, which will help as well.
Nip It in the Bud
Your best course of action, naturally, is to avoid the problem in the first place. There are a number of ways to do that, depending on the meal. In a cooked dish, don't put raw onion right in the pot with your other ingredients. Instead, cook it first before the other ingredients go in. Even a few minutes' gentle cooking at low heat will take the edge off the onions' flavor. Water can play a part too. With minced onion, just putting it in a strainer and rinsing it under the tap often helps. Soaking sliced onion in ice water for at least 30 minutes will mellow its flavor dramatically. Pat it dry before you use it in your salads or cooked dishes, and you'll enjoy plenty of onion flavor without the harsh burn.
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Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.