This post was contributed by Lori Yates from Foxes Love Lemons. Today we’re talking raw onions, one of the most common, most flavorful ingredients in our pantry.

raw red onion

I have a love-hate relationship with red onions. My grocery store sells the most amazing chicken salad sandwiches. They’re made with just a few simple ingredients—chicken, celery, dried cherries, red onions, and mayonnaise. One day I attempted to save money by making them myself at home. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a disappointment. The problem? The harsh flavor of the raw onion overpowered everything else in the sandwich, even when I significantly reduced the amount. The whole thing just tasted like an onion salad sandwich, and it left my breath in a sad state of affairs for hours after.

raw onion on a burger

My struggles came to an end in culinary school. During several of my classes, the students were in charge of running the restaurant at the front of the school. One of the most boring (but necessary) tasks was prepping ingredients for side salads. We peeled and thinly slice red onions and then soak them in a big bowl of ice water. The onions soaked in the water at least 10 minutes, but they can really sit in there for several hours while you finish the rest of your daily tasks. After soaking, the onions were drained, patted dry, and refrigerated until lunch service started.

The sulfur compounds that give the raw onions their pungent, harsh flavor dissipate in the bowl of water, leaving the resulting onion with a more mellow flavor. When you use cold water, the onion remains super crunchy. In fact, if you have a slightly older onion that is getting a bit soft, the cold water will make it crunchy again.

soaking raw onion

I’ve had hundreds (thousands?) of simple restaurant side salads in my life, but none are as good as the ones we made at my school. The harsh bite of the red onion was completely tamed by the cold water. The flavor of the onion came through without that spicy, burning feeling in your mouth and nose. Better yet, there was no terrible onion aftertaste for the rest of the day.

Try this trick for salads, sandwiches, tacos, or any dish where you want a little flavor of onion, but don’t want that to be the only thing you taste.