Saturday, December 16, 2006

Gift in a Jar 2: Pickled Pearl Onions

(The first gift in a jar, maple vanilla granola, can be found here.)

This gorgeous gift in a jar is perfect for the boozehound in your family.

No wait, let me try again.

This gorgeous gift in a jar is perfect for the refined gentleman in your family who appreciates the finest things in life. Like booze.

I was inspired by the availability of pearl onions in different colors in the market (and by our family's own beloved refined imbiber, of course). I'd not pickled onions before (in fact the last time I had attempted anything like this, it was Jamie Oliver's stuffed peppers, also as a cocktail-snack gift. Let's just say I had to sleep with my hand in a bowl of ice water that night because the capsaicin in the peppers burned me so bad.), so I gathered some knowledge from Zuni Cafe as interpreted by Molly, at Orangette, and from this boisterous recipe, and added some tweaks of my own.

I made mine with a mix of red and white pearl onions, and the result looks like an enticing jar of real-life polka dots! And the taste is even better than I expected. The onions kept their crunch and are satisfyingly salty, but pack an aromatic bite and light sweetness that sets them apart from their comparatively-paltry supermarket cousins (who literally pale in comparison).

They'll go fine with a glass of cheap hooch, but are certainly sophisticated enough to accompany a snifter of the most urbane spirits.

Pickled White and Red Pearl Onions

This recipe fills a 3/4-liter jar. The purpose of the initial brining step is fourfold: it aids in peeling, it soaks dirt off the onions, it helps maintain the onions' crunch, and of course, it adds a pleasant saltiness. This, along with cooking and cooling the onions 3 times, make the process somewhat time-consuming, but you have some free time in between (to read a book or clean your kitchen, perhaps?), and the end result is well worth the time investment.

2 tablespoons salt
12 ounces red pearl onions
12 ounces white pearl onions

Pickling Solution
4 cups distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 juniper berries
about 20 black and/or red peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
crushed red pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, dissolve salt in 2 cups water. Repeat the following for each onion: Cut the top and bottom off the onion. Dip it in the brine for a second or two (this helps the skin come off more easily). Peel off the skin and any leathery outer layers. Return peeled onion to the brine. Allow onions to sit in brine for at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the pickling solution. In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients over high heat. Separate the red and white onions onto 2 plates. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the white onions to it and stir. As soon as it begins to simmer again, about 15 seconds later, give the onions one more stir, then remove them from the heat back to their plate (a spider or slotted spoon makes this easy). Place the plate of onions in the fridge and repeat the process with the red onions.

Once the onions have cooled, repeat the process 2 more times, allowing them to cool between each dunk into the boiling pickling solution. Allow onions and pickling solution to cool. Place onions in a jar (be sure to mix the reds and whites at this point -- much prettier presentation). Pour pickling solution over the onions to fill jar. Be sure peppercorns, bay leaves, anise, etc. make their way into the jar. Discard remaining pickling solution or save for salad dressing or other recipes.

Note: As this recipe ages, the flavors mellow and meld together. Unfortunately though, so do the colors. If you are going to give this as a gift, your best bet to maximize both would be to make it about 3-7 days before presenting it.


  1. Though this is lovely, it should not be limited to just the boozers. At some point, a pregnant mom I know would have polished off the entire bottle for lunch.

  2. Mmmmm we tried something cloe to this when we had a canning/jarring extravaganza in the fall... pickled anything is my favorite!

  3. yes, tsp, i've heard of this, once-pregnant, ahem, friend of yours and her weird cocktail onion cravings. these would have really satisfied!

    and annie, i recall seeing pictures of the jars and jars and jars of various tomato products you guys concocted. pretty impressive!