A lot of recipes call for scallions or green onions as an ingredient or at least as a garnish. The slender, pencil-shaped onions don’t have a lot of waste, as their larger cousins do, but you will need to trim them a bit before you use them.
Scallions vs. Green Onions
Let’s start by settling the question of green onions vs. scallions. The fact is they’re the same thing. They’re a mild onion that doesn’t form bulbs, with a sweeter and lower-key onion flavor than other alliums. The only difference is the name, and as Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?”
So whether your recipe calls for scallions or green onions, you’re buying, storing and cutting the same vegetable.
Scallions need minimal trimming before you use them. First, give your scallions a quick look. If they’re not perfectly fresh, you might find that the very “outer-est” layer or two of the white is either dry and papery or soft and mushy. Remove that first, though if the greens at the top still look good, they can be saved.
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The tops of the scallions are usually trimmed to a uniform length when they’re harvested, and those cut ends will begin to dry and discolor after a few days. Trim those away, as well as any of the greens that have begun to wilt or turn brown. Now, reverse the scallion and trim off the roots along with the last 1/8 inch or so of the bulb. At this point, your scallions need just a quick rinse, and they’re ready to use.
They’ll last longest if you trim them just before you use them, so take out just as many as you need for a given recipe and store the rest.
What’s the Best Way to Store Scallions?
There are a few different ways to keep your scallions fresh as long as possible. Leaving them bundled up isn’t one of them, so start by taking off the rubber band. Leaving the band on traps moisture in the bunch of scallions, which makes them break down more quickly. Just separating them and leaving their storage bag open a bit for airflow will help them keep nicely for a week or longer.
Wrapping your scallions in a paper towel, which will trap moisture and keep it away from them, will help extend their life by an extra few days. For the longest life, though, take the opposite approach and double down on moisture. Stand up the scallions in a jar of water, with a bag loosely over the top to protect them. As long as you remember to change the water every couple of days, they’ll last up to two weeks.
The best storage method of all is to keep them in the soil. If you plant scallions in a pot or windowsill planter in your kitchen, you’ll have them fresh and ready whenever you want them.
The Green and the White
Recipes usually call for the green and white portions of the scallion to be used separately, and they may call for one but not the other. The whites are more onion-y, and they’re usually treated as an especially quick-cooking onion in things like stir-fries and quick soups. The greens are typically used uncooked, and they are often treated as a garnish to make your finished dish prettier. Preparing the scallion for these separate uses opens the door to a variety of different cutting methods.
The simplest way to cut scallions is to lay them down on your cutting board and slice across them. The pieces can be either fine or chunky, depending on what the recipe calls for. Some recipes specify lengths from a 1/2 to 2 inches, while others expect you to shave them finely into quick-cooking rounds of the white or fine rings of the green.
For stir-fries, cutting the scallion at a 45-degree angle gives lots of exposed surface area where heat – and sauces – can penetrate. You can also julienne the scallions by cutting them into lengths, slicing the lengths lengthwise into halves, then cutting those halves lengthwise again to make fine shreds. You can make the shreds extra-curly for garnishing purposes by soaking them in cold water. As a bonus, soaking makes them milder as well.
Scallion “mops,” made from the whites of the scallion, make a nice garnish for salads and cold platters. Trim away the hairy roots, but leave the root end of the scallion otherwise intact. Cut the whites to a 2- or 2½-inch length; then slice the last inch or 2 into fine fronds but leave them attached to the base. After at least 30 minutes in cold water, they’ll curl up into little brush shapes.
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.