Potatoe vs Onion

Tournament of Vegetables


By Alison Broverman

For our final round, we went to Anthony Walsh, executive chef of Canoe. Says Walsh: If I was asked, blind, to name the three cornerstones of my kitchen, potatoes and onions are both on that short list. I use them both constantly. Its a tough choice, but I probably lean towards onion. If I was cooking for, say, Gordon Ramsay and could only use one vegetable, I think I can do more with an onion.

And here we go... Potato vs Onion

This tough tuber has come a long way, standing firm against carrot, sweet potato and beet to represent Roots and Tubers. In previous rounds, chefs Sharon Bergey and Christopher Perera couldnt imagine their kitchens with the potato, and last week, Freshs Jennifer Houston demonstrated the potatos more nutritious side and chose the spud over its leafy competitor, the cabbage. But will the potato cry tears of shame against its potent opponent, the onion?

Accessibility: They can be stored forever as long as you keep them in the dark, dry and cold. We generally stock six or seven types of potatoes, from three different potato suppliers, but some types of potatoes arent as readily available for Joe Grocery Shopper. Im always amazed at the crap they sometimes sell at some grocery stores: potatoes should be dirty and hard. Youre usually better off buying potatoes at farmers markets.

Versatility: The versatility is definitely there: Ive done elements of desserts with potatoes, and you can serve them any which way for any course. I serve them hot, cold, fried, in soups, or just the skins. There are massive texture and flavour variants. The only thing I havent yet tried is making my own vodka, but Id like to give it a shot.

Flavour: Its so basic you can pull a lot of different flavours out of a potato depending on how you prepare it, but by itself. Theres not a lot of flavour without horsing around with the potato.

Health: Urban legend has it that a person can get all their necessary nutrients by eating only potatoes and milk (though why anyone would want to remains a mystery). But with 95% of its nutrients in and immediately under the skin, the potatos health benefits are easily peeled away. And French fries dont count as a serving of vegetables according to most nutritionists.

Dubbed the king of the vegetables early on by chef Jason Bangerter, and the workhorse of the kitchen by chef Donna Dooher, the onion has left a trail of tears in its path to victory. In last weeks semi-final, Anna Olson opted for onion as her desert island veggie. But how will the onion fare against the crowd-pleasing potato?

Accessibility: The best ones are found locally, and theres plenty of local variety: red, white, shallots, buttons, and more. We always try to stay as local as we can at Canoe. But onions store quite well, and you can get them pretty well year-round. When choosing an onion, you want them to be tight and hard as a rock.

Versatility: At the very base level of simple cooking, onions are the cornerstone. From béchamel sauce to stocks, theyre the basis of everything, and theyre a token addition to stir-fries. I can use the same type of onion four or five different ways in the same dish to build the flavour. It can be either a supporting or primary ingredient: there are plenty of dishes I make where onion is the centerpiece, like an onion soup served in an onion bowl.

Flavour: Theres such versatility in the flavour of onions. When theyre cooked, youre usually talking about this great caramelized sweetness, which is a very attractive characteristic of the onion. But theres also the harsh, raw, onion-y flavour of an uncooked onion   it can have a natural heat. Do people order dishes because of onion? Of course not. But thats why the dishes taste the way they do.

Health: Onions have long been a home remedy for bacterial infections like earaches and coughs, due to their anti-bacterial properties. They also contain natural anti-clotting agents, so they can be effective in preventing heart disease and high blood pressure. Plus, studies have shown that onions contain a variety of sulfides that could prevent stomach and colon cancer.

Uploaded 03/31/2011
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