Learning to Like Onions (Sort Of)

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This is my first (and certainly not last) post about my attempts to get over being a lifelong picky eater. See “Why I Cook” for the background, if you’re curious. Today’s project is learning to like onions.

Tonight, my wife and I decided to cook saffron-braised chicken with a recipe from one of our favorite cookbooks: Mediterranean Paleo Cooking. It’s an incredible book, especially if you’re at all interested in Mediterranean food or have any kind of restricted diet. Most of the recipes simple, too, which makes them easy to work with for picky eaters like me.

This particular dish is pretty straightforward – put chicken in a pot, cook for a bit, add spices, cook for a bit more, add liquid, cook one more time, and you’re basically done. The thing is, it calls for an entire onion. And that’s crazy talk.

What’s wrong with onions?

Onions are one of the many banes of my existence. Do what you want, but they’ll still be overpowering and give you bad breath for hours. Plus they make you cry out of spite, should you have the audacity to cook them anyway. I’ve resisted any contact with them for… well, just about my entire life now. Ick.

Despite this, they’re apparently wildly popular. People use onions in so many dishes that it’s hard to avoid them, no matter how hard you try.

The thing is they’re in so many dishes for a reason. Even if you don’t eat the onions, they have a profound impact on the overall flavor of any meal. I can’t say I really like the flavor, but I do find it unique and interesting. I figure if my goal is to broaden my horizons, I need onions on my personal list of “approved ingredients.” So I’m determined to like them. Or at least tolerate them. Or maybe just be in the same room as them. Baby steps.

My main problem with onions is the texture. They have this slimy, soft-but-hard-but-chewy consistency that I just can’t stomach. One day I hope to enjoy the texture, but I’ll settle for not gagging in the meantime.

How did I actually learn to like onions?

I cheated. At some point, someone recommended that I try shallots. They have a milder flavor than onions, and they’ll basically dissolve if you mince and cook them in a liquid for a while. So now, whenever a dish calls for onions, I swap them out for finely minced shallots.

gif of chopping shallots
Texture woes, be gone.

The saffron-braised chicken recipe calls for an entire medium onion, but instead I minced two small shallots until they were almost a paste. After cooking them down, they didn’t really have any texture left to dislike.

I’m not fully on the onion bandwagon yet, but I do think the addition of shallots made the dish way better than it would’ve been without. Not actually an onion, but it’s pretty close and I’ve gotta start somewhere. All that said, read on for the recipe.

Leave a comment if you try it out, and definitely check out the book (Mediterranean Paleo Cooking). This is my version of their recipe, but they absolutely deserve the credit.

Oh, and one other thing. This recipe calls for saffron which is stupidly expensive at any grocery store. For $10-15 you get a whopping 0.7g, and it’s usually not great quality. If you buy it on Amazon instead, you can get 2g of higher quality saffron for nearly the same price. Personally, I’ve had good luck with Golden Saffron.


Recipe: Saffron-Braised Chicken & Rice

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Serves: 2-4 people (depending on how much chicken you like)

Ingredients

Saffron-Braised Chicken

  • about 1.5 pounds of bone-in skin-on chicken parts (3 drumsticks and a chicken breast was more than enough for me and my wife, but you can easily use more or less)
  • 2 tsp ghee or coconut oil
  • 1.5 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium-sized shallot (or 2 small ones)
  • 3 cups of chicken broth (Osso Chicken Bone Broth is a high quality option made from sustainably sourced chicken, while Better than Boullion is a more reasonably priced alternative)

Rice

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 cups of water or chicken broth

Instructions

  1. Mince your shallots and garlic cloves until they’re as fine as you want them to be. I go until it’s basically a paste, which means the shallots don’t really have a texture at all after the dish is cooked.
  2. Get a pot large enough for all your chicken to fit without stacking on top of each other, and melt the oil on medium heat. You want it to be too hot, but you’ll burn the spices when we add them if you use high heat.
  3. Add your chicken and cook it for about 10 minutes. Rotate each piece every couple minutes to brown up all sides. Don’t turn them too frequently or they won’t brown up – your goal is to get a decent sear all around.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium-low, then add the paprika, ginger, cumin, saffron, garlic, and shallots. Cook for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Add your broth, cover the pot, and bring to a boil.
  6. Once boiling, remove the cover and reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes.
  7. While the chicken is simmering, make your rice. I recommend 1 cup of rice for every 2-3 people plus twice as much liquid. Combine it all in a pot, cover with a lid, bring to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer for 15 minutes. I prefer to make rice with bone broth as an easy way to make the rice more nutritious and flavorful, but using water works fine as well.
  8. Back to the chicken. Once your chicken is done, set your oven to broil with a rack on the highest shelf. Transplant your chicken (not the sauce) to a baking dish and broil in the oven for 5 minutes, which will crisp up the skin.
  9. If your pot is still full of liquid at this point, reduce it down by boiling it while the chicken bakes. It will be watery no matter what, but you should have enough left for a sauce and not a soup.
  10. Aaaand that’s it! You can serve the chicken on top of or alongside the rice, but either way be sure to pour your sauce from the chicken pot on top.

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