Onions: picking, selecting, storing
24 Oct 2013 09.57 am by Renny Wijeyamohan
Onions are everywhere. Period. You’ll find them in every grocery store and they represent a staple ingredient of diverse international cuisines. They’re thrown on the barbecue with sausages or steak in Australia, used as a spicy base for South East Asian curries and caramelised for their sweet flavour in Europe. Nutritionally, onions are high in Vitamin C and dietary fibre and are fat and cholesterol free. So think about experimenting with onions in your cooking today.
The telltale sign of an impending onion harvest is when the leaves at the top of the onion bulb begin to bend over. This is nature’s way of telling you that the onions are going to be ready to pick soon. Keep an eye on how many leaf sets have flopped over in your patch. When between 50 and 80 per cent have doubled over, you should manually bend the rest over and leave the onion bulbs in ground to mature for 10 to 14 days.
Once the onions have matured in ground, gently pull them out grasping place where the leaves meet the bulb and let them dry in the sun for 1 to 2 days. Be careful not to bump or bruise the bulbs as you pull them out and lay them to rest as this can allow bacteria to enter. You’ll know that an onion is properly dried when the root system at the base of the bulb is dehydrated and shrivelled.
When the onions have dried you’ll need to cure them for between 2 and 4 weeks depending on your local climate. Spread the onions out in a single layer in a dry and airy place away from direct sunlight like a balcony or porch. You can trim off the leaves to about 2.5 centimetres (approx 1 inch) above the bulb once the onions are fully cured. You can tell this by checking to see if the leaves have fully withered and the necks of the onion (the place where the leaves meet the bulb) are closed up and dry. If your onions are cured and ready to go, move them to a cool dry place for storage.
When selecting onions from the grocery store or supermarket, look for ones that have smooth and shiny skin with a crumply texture like tissue paper. Use your hands to pick up and heft an onion – it should feel dry and firm. Steer clear of onions that are soft, moist or have dark spots as this means they have begun to decay. Avoid onions with sprouts because they will be less flavoursome and nutrient rich.
Onions should be stored in a cool dry place like your pantry. Kept in this way some varieties can last for many months, while others can only be stored for a few weeks. Regularly check your onions for signs of rotting and remove those that have gone bad. If your storage temperatures are too warm, your onions may begin to sprout if this happens, simply throw them out. Since onions are good keepers, you should only refrigerate sliced onions – use these within 2-3 days for optimal texture and flavour.
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