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Top 10 chefs' tips

Updated on June 27, 2012

Want to know how to stop crying when you chop onions? Make the perfect roux? Cook fantastically fluffy and light basmati rice? Or simply an easy way to finely chop onions? Read on...

1. Stop crying when chopping onions

One of the most common questions I get asked is: “How do I stop crying when I chop onions?” or “What is your best tip to stopping crying when chopping onions?”

The most effective approach I’ve used is not breathing through my nose while chopping onions. This might mean putting a peg on your nose, but simply breathing through you mouth during chopping totally eliminates any chance of crying. If your eyes are still watering after trying this, you aren’t doing it right!

2. Make sure your knife is sharp

Always use a sharp knife when chopping. This is very important because without the sharpness, when you are chopping things like tomatoes, onions or peppers, a blunter knife may slip off the item and onto your fingers. Use a standard butcher’s steel or sharpening stone. Avoid knife “grinder” sharpening utensils - they tend to shard your knife.

3. Best onion chopping technique

If you want to chop onions really finely, I think this approach is one of the best.

1. Cut the onion in half lengthwise.

2. Peel back the outer leaves making sure that they stay attached to the onion.

3. Cut the (brown) tip of the onion off.

4. Now holding the peeled back outer onion leaves, carefully and slowly slice halfway up the onion towards the onion leaf end. DISCLAIMER: This requires real care – make sure you are holding the onion so that your hand is not in directly line of the chopping plane.

5. Chop down “leaf” end to tip leaving only small gaps between each slice.

6. Finally, chop across to get your perfectly finely chopped onion.

7. (Do the same with the other half.)

4. Sugar strawberries

Even if your strawberries smell great, they may not taste as good as they smell. Sprinkle a small amount of caster sugar over them and toss them gently to spread the sugar evenly. Leave for a few minutes. The juice from the strawberries will percolate towards the sugar and the resulting taste is intense strawberry sweetness.

5. Wipe your mushrooms

To get mushrooms clean, a lot of people peel the outer skin off mushrooms and discard the stalk. STOP! You are getting rid of the best bits! Both the outer skin and stalk of a mushroom contains some of the highest concentration of nutrients in the mushrooms.

Instead, use a clean, damp cloth and gently wipe any residual dirt from the mushroom (top, underside and stalk). Retain the stalk, and if you must – only cut the smallest end of the stalk off if it has dried.

6. Perfectly cooked rice

I used to make seriously stodgy basmati rice, wondering how on earth the rice I ate in restaurants was so perfectly light and fluffy. This is what I found out when I asked:

1. Put the basmati into a sieve and rinse under cold water.

2. Bring a half* pan of water to the boil and lightly salt.

3. Add the basmati.

4. Boil rapidly for 5 minutes.

5. Turn off the heat.

6. Drain the excess water from the pan and cover for 5 minutes.

7. Fluff the rice with a fork to separate the grains.

8. Serve.

(*Generally, use twice as much water as basmati.)

7. Revitalising limp lettuce

OK. You’ve left the lettuce out of the refrigerator on a hot day or simply left it in the fridge for a few days. It looks limp and unappealing. You go to throw it away. STOP! As long as it’s not rotting or mildew-covered, it can be rescued.

1. Get a large bowl and add cold water and several ice cubes.

2. Drop the washed lettuce leaves into the iced water and submerge as much as possible.

3. Wait 10 minutes.

4. Take the leaves out and dry.

The leaves are crisp and ready to eat!

8. Making the perfect roux / sauce

The trick here is to add the liquid (milk or stock) slowly so that the flour is fully incorporated. Too much in one go, and you’ll end up with a lumpy roux / sauce.

1. On a low heat, melt the butter in a pan and add the flour.

2. Stir until the mixture forms a smooth paste which leaves the sides and base of pan cleanly.

3. Cook for a minimum of 2 minutes to cook out the taste of the flour.

4. Turn the heat off.

5. Pour in a tablespoon or two of the milk/stock and mix in until smooth.

6. Keep adding small amounts of milk/stock and mixing in until smooth.

7. Once you get to a fairly runny consistency, add the rest of the milk/stock.

8. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring all the time (preferably with a balloon whisk).

9. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer until the sauce thickens.

9. Boil the kettle

Waiting for a kettle to boil may seem like a long time, but waiting for a saucepan of water to come to the boil will seem like much longer. The quickest way to bring a pan of water to the boil is to boil the kettle; add to the pan and put on full heat.

10. Preparation or “Mis en place”

OK, maybe this should have been the first tip, but…“Mis en place” is the term used in cookery school for preparing your ingredients before you start to cook. It stands to reason that if you are prepared before you start cooking, the process will work out much better and be a lot less stressful. So make sure everything is weighed and chopped before the cooking commences.


(click column header to sort results)
1. Stop crying when chopping onions
Breath through your mouth
2. Keep your knife sharp
Use a butcher's / sharpening steel
3. Best onion chopping technique
Follow the 7 simple steps
4. Sugar strawberries
Flavour behaviour
5. Wipe your mushrooms
Retain the goodness
6. Perfectly cooked rice
Simple and easy
7. Revitalising limp lettuce
Iced water and 10 minutes
8. Making the perfect roux / sauce
Follow the 9 simple steps
9. Boil the kettle
Quick an easy
10. Mis en place
Prepare before cooking

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    • iTop10 profile image

      iTop10 6 years ago

      You are welcome, Victoria! Let me know how you get on.

    • Victoria Stephens profile image

      Victoria Stephens 6 years ago from London

      Thank you for some useful tips, fingers crossed no more onion tears for me!


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