One chef's favorite ingredient is probably in your pantry right now. 

By Dawn Perry
Updated May 08, 2018

As a professional cook/person-who-thinks-about-food-all-day, it’s inspiring to find out how other professional cooks/people-who-think-about-food-all-day think about food. Sound like a mouthful? This week on RS Cooking School, we asked Chef Grant Crilly, co-founder of Chef Steps, about his favorite ingredient—specifically, the one ingredient he can’t live without. The answer? It's got layers.

Grant says:

"Hot and spicy when raw, deeply caramelized and sweet when cooked low and slow, onions are nature’s gift to chefs. Some cry when they cut them; I cry when I can’t find one! Out of all the ingredients in my kitchen, the onion is the one I can't live without.

Shave them thick or thin to add crunch and zest to a salad, slice or grate them for a quick pickle, grill them until sweet and charred, or fry naked or breaded for adding golden brown crunch to any dish. You can even roast them whole and purée them for a dairy-free cream substitute. They're inexpensive, store well for long periods, and are a great ingredient to practice your knife skills on."

Here are a few of Grant’s favorite ways to use his beloved onion:

Onion Cream: This is really just an onion purée, and you can use it in place of heavy cream for a silky-smooth non-dairy addition to soups and other dishes. Place a few onions in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 400°F until golden and very soft, about 45 minutes. Let them cool slightly and, when cool enough to handle, remove the papery skin. Transfer the soft flesh to a blender and add a squeeze of lemon juice, a good pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil and blend until super velvety and smooth. Drizzle the flavorful cream over soups like this Creamy Broccoli and Spinach number. Watch Grant make Onion Cream here.

Onion Krispies: Similar to my favorite fried shallots, these are an excellent addition to salads of all kinds (especially my Cucumbers with Fried and Pickled Shallots). Grant recommends using a sharper-tasting onion variety for these, so choose white or red. Shave the onion as thinly as you can with a knife or mandoline and place in a small saucepan. Cover the onion with vegetable oil and place over medium heat. Watch carefully and, as soon as the onions turn golden brown, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon (you may have to do this in stages as I find the onions don’t usually brown at exactly the same rate). Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt and pepper.

Onion Surprise! Finally, a surprise use for thinly sliced raw onion. One of my favorite tips is soaking raw onion in ice water to mellow some of the bite. After soaking, combine the thinly shaved onion—use a sweeter variety here, like Wala Wala or Vidalia—with a half bunch each fresh mint and cilantro, the juice of half a lime and about a tablespoon of toasted cumin seeds. To make those, simply add whole cumin seeds to a dry skillet and cook over medium heat, swirling the skillet, until you can really smell the cumin, about a minute. Gently toss everything together with your hands and use to top grilled fish or chicken, your favorite curry, or even an omelet.

Whether you use them as the building blocks of a soup or let them have center stage, onions are the pantry items chefs and home cooks alike should never be without. Give one of these ideas a try this week and join our Facebook group! We’d love to hear about what you’re cooking.