Home Chef Training: How to Chop an Onion Like a Pro + Easy Chicken Noodle Soup
Welcome to our first installment of Home Chef Training! I am studying to be a chef and I want to share some things I learned in culinary school to help you make cooking at home more enjoyable. Today’s lesson is an easy and efficient way to chop an onion. Then, since you already have an onion chopped up, you may as wall make my Easy Chicken Soup.
Right after I graduated from college, I decided I wanted to learn how to cook. At the time, I thought cooking usually involved opening a box of something and following the directions. That worked just fine in college, but somehow in my early 20s it just didn’t feel right anymore. The only recipe I had in my arsenal at the time was for my mom’s spaghetti sauce, which was pretty amazing, but I wanted to expand. I had also just spent a semester in Italy and had been introduced to food, real food, and a desire was born. I wanted to cook, not for others, just for myself, because I wanted to eat food that tasted good.
Fast forward 13 years, and I find myself as a student at the Culinary Institute of America, the premier cooking school in the United States, and I still pinch myself that I am here. It is a dream come true that started as a desire to eat food that tasted good, brought about by my marrying into the military and taking full advantage of my husband’s GI Bill. Thank you Uncle Sam! I am neck deep in the world of fine cuisine—braising, slicing, dicing, flipping, mixing, emulsifying, caramelizing, etc., and learning all sorts of things which sound super fancy in French but mostly are pretty simple once you break it all down. And I can’t get enough! I’ve read my fundamentals of baking book three times, all because I really want to understand every bit of why things happen the way they do in the kitchen. I am following the baking/pastry track, mostly because they make you choose either cooking or baking and not both. Although I have always loved cooking more than baking, I chose the baking track because, as a military spouse, I feel it will give me more options that don’t involve being a line cook at a local diner when we move to Texas/Washington/Kansas/wherever the Army decides to send us.
All that being said, I am still just an enthusiastic home cook at heart, trying my hardest to channel my inner Julia Child when I step up to my stove. And, like most of you, I am trying to juggle multiple hats and most days I don’t have the time or energy to get fancy. But, I still want to cook food that tastes good. I have picked up a few tricks at culinary school that I’d like to share with you. These are things that I wish someone would have shared with me when I was just starting out, teaching myself to cook by reading cookbooks and watching Food Network. Keep in mind there are sometimes many right ways to cook something. It’s important to try out different methods and find what works best for you.
One of the first things they teach you in culinary school, whether you are a cook or a baker, is how to chop an onion. If you are anything like me, you have experienced the frustration that can come from chopping an onion — from watery eyes to the layers all falling apart on your board, resulting in a hack-job of large pieces, small pieces, long strips, all of which cook at differing rates once you put it into a hot pan. I love that scene from the movie Julie and Julia when Julia Child as portrayed by Meryl Streep is seen going to town on a towering pile of onions in her basement kitchen, as she enthusiastically masters how to properly chop an onion. This is a game changer folks!
How to chop an onion in 60 seconds:
I also wanted to share an easy recipe that will allow you to practice your new skill of perfectly chopping an onion. This is one of the first things I ever learned how to cook from the first cookbook I ever received: Rachel Ray’s 30-Minute Meals. It is still a go-to of mine, and although I don’t use boxed or canned chicken broth very often, I certainly don’t judge people who do. It is a huge time-saver. Happy cooking!
Easy Chicken Noodle Soup
(Adapted from Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound chicken breast meat (about 2 chicken breast halves), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems (see video below for technique)
1 quart chicken broth (I used low sodium to make it easier to adjust the saltiness to my taste)
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
½ pound wide egg noodles, cooked separately or 1 cup of rice, cooked separately (optional)
fresh chopped parsley (optional)
*Before starting your soup, start cooking your egg noodles or rice if using, and set aside.
Step 1: Assemble all your ingredients.
Step 2: Heat olive oil in a stockpot or large saucepan (at least 4 quarts capacity. I like to use my enameled cast iron dutch oven) over medium heat.
Step 3: Add the chicken all at once, and cook until no pink remains on the outsides. Turn the chicken pieces occasionally, but do not stir constantly.
Step 4: Add thyme, salt, and pepper and stir to coat the chicken. If you have neer used fresh thyme in a receip before or have trouble using it in recipes, the video below can help.
Step 5: Add vegetables and keep the heat on medium. Cook for 5 minutes to soften vegetables, stirring occasionally.
Step 6: Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for 10-15 minutes until vegetables are to your desired tenderness.
Step 7: Pour into bowls, over noodles or rice if using, and garnish with freshly chopped parsley, if using.