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Delicious, Homemade Pickled Onions For Christmas

Updated on January 15, 2015

Cheating To Make Delicious Homemade Pickled Onions

Homemade pickled onions, delicious, crunchy, sharp and spicy; sounds good but there are lots of recipes for making pickled onions available on the internet, which one to choose. All those spices, "kinda makes your head whirl", but I provide here an easy method which gives fabulous results.

Have you ever made really crunchy pickled onions, no matter which brand you can buy, I'll bet yours were better. And it is so easy to make them without all that time spent boiling vinegar to add the spices.

Unless otherwise noted, this & all images are my own photos, taken whilst preparing or enjoying my homemade pickled onions.

CHEAT! Buy ready spiced vinegar. Once you have done it you will not want to go back to adding your own spices - except a certain few to add a little zing and which do not need all that boiling.

I will be describing how easy it is to make your own onions and one or two secret ( ??) ingredients to make sure that people ask for more.

I took over the task of making my families christmas pickled onions, when my mother-in-law got too old to continue. She used to make a lot every year and pass jars out to various family members in about October time to mature for christmas. When I started doing it, I bolied up the vinegar to add the spices and the house reeked for days. Then one year I found a ready spiced vinegar. I have used it every year since. No one noticed the difference and they still expect their onions, 20 years on.

fresh shallots
fresh shallots

First Things First

Know Your Onions

I make pickled onions from both baby onions and shallots. "What is the difference?", I hear from the back. Well there are many varieties of shallot as there are of onions but two differences are of relevance here.

1. The shallot is a much sweeter bulb than the onion

2. Shallots tend to have double (or sometimes triple) bulbs in the outer skin. Slightly more difficult to skin since you usually need to separate the bulbs before processing, there are also long narrow types but I don't use these for pickling. No reason, just personal preference.

What ever you use treat in exactly the same way when pickling. I usually make pickled onions from both baby onions and shallots, in different jars of course. Nice to have a choice.

echallion shallots pickling pickled
echallion shallots pickling pickled

Echallion Shallots

Echallion shallots are the largest variety of shallots and are easily recognised by the elongated shape. They have a very sweet, intense flavour and are easy to prepare. An method is to place the shallot in boiling water for a fe seconds and cut off the top, when the bulb can be sqeezed to remove the fresh inner part, but this would not be amenable to pickling when crunchiness is parmount.

I have never used this variety for pickling although I guess there is no reason not to.

Do You Need Any Special Equipment To Make Pickled Onions?

The answer is a resounding no! You will however need a number of jars to store and mature the onions. I use old jam jars or chutney jars, etc, if you are not mindful to collect these throughout the year then it is possible to buy kilner jars which can be used and re-used many times.

Other equipment you will need is no more than may be found in virtually any kitchen. A large bowl for soaking the onions in brine is probably the only other item you may need to aquire if you do not have anything you can use already.

Prepare The Onions

Peel And Soak

Peel the onions, be prepared for a good cry! After 20 years of making these I still have not found a way of preventing the onion vapour from affecting my eyes. I wear glasses and put the onions directly into water but to no avail. I have heard that people actually peel them under water but this can be a nuisance and take a long time.

You can read of a simple way to prevent your eyes watering, on Squidoo. A couple of tips which may sound strange - I will let you know how I get on next time I make a batch.

A very good idea from a reader is to put the onions in the fridge before peeling, sounds llike this might work to me.

It is necessary to carry out the soaking, as the brine penetrates the onion, and by a process of osmosis (I believe) removes some of the water from the cells of the onion. This makes a far more firm and crunchy onion after the pickiling process.

When you have washed the peeled onions put them into a fairly large bowl and pour on sufficient brine to fully cover them. I add enough salt to the water so that there is some undissolved at the bottom of the container.

I then place a dish or small plate over the onions inside the bowl to keep them under the brine.

They then need to soak for about 24 hours.

The Next Step

Pickling The Onions

As I said I always use ready spiced pickling vinegar these days, but an alternative option is to add balsamic vinegar to the pickling vinegar ( half and half by volume).

The list of ingredients I use are :-

* enough onions ( baby onoins or shallots) to fill your pickling jars

* salt to prepare the brine solution

* Sufficient Pickling vinegar

* balsamic vinegar as required

* sugar ( to taste, about two heaped teaspoons per jar

* other spices and herbs as required

Clean and sterilise your pickling jars. Wash in hot soapy water, rinse and put into an oven at 100 degC. When Dry remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Drain the brine soaked onions and wash well under running water. Then leave in a cullender to drain excess water. Add the onions to your pickling jars, mix the sizes to get a good fill. Then add the sugar and fill the jar with your vinegar ( or the vinegar/basamic mixture) . Put on the top of the jar and shake to ensure that the sugar is dissolved.

Label as required, let stand for several weeks ( at least six) and the onions will be ready for your christmas table; delicious, crunchy and sweet.

chilli flakes
chilli flakes

Add Some Heat

If You Can Take It

As an additional option I always put some dried chilli flakes which are obtainable at most supermarkets, into a few of the jars. Some people like this but not everybody. So I can give them a choice. As with all my recipes I leave the amount to your own judgement. Experiment and find your own limit. I would suggest a half teaspoonful of the flakes as a starter. By the end of the maturation period, the onions will be delicious, crunchy and HOT.

pickled onions - ingredients
pickled onions - ingredients

So Where Does That Leave Us

The Choices Are Yours

You can choose baby onions or shallots, shallots are sweeter and generally not quite so hot. In the photograph here you can see onions on the left and shallots on the right. There are of course different kinds which may be shaped differently.

Select how sweet you want them, not too sweet though, and add the sugar.

Decided wether to add chilli flakes and how much, and wether you are brave enough.

And why not experiment for yourself? A contributer has written below to say that her father used honey. I guess this is instead of sugar as a sweetner, but I will be experimenting with my 2014 batch. I will simply leave out the sugar and add honey in what seems like an approproate amount to give a similar sweetness (will add more information soon). I am afraid that results will not be available just yet, but I look forward to adding them as soon as I have tasted the "honied onions".

All That Is Left Is To Enjoy The Onions.

But Don't Forget They need To Mature

I love eating them with cheese and crackers and a glass of whiskey, but as there may be minors watching, I had a cup of tea this time.

Just three days after christmas this year, I decided, with my wife , that a light meal would be very welcome. This consisted of a salad with home cooked ham, boiled in cider and then baked with a honey and mustard coating; homemade apple and plum chutney; and of course the homemade onions pickled in balsamic vinegar. A delightful meal washed down with a glass of a light traditional ale.

Happy pickling, folks.

christmas pickled onions
christmas pickled onions

Christmas Pickled Onion Supplies

Are you thinking of yours yet?

I am beginning to think about this years onionn as we go into august, this year I may be making a small batch to trial the use of honey. It sounds interesting. An idea from a comment below, but I will have to experiment a little with quantities. If I want the onions to be nicely matured before the great day arrives, maybe enough time to taste an early batch is needed.

As I believe I have mentioned, I tend to make far to much, some to give away, some for christmas itself and some to last the whole year. But for use at christmas, they do need time to mature. It is never to early to start thinking about pickling onions in my view.

I would love to hear from you if you pickle your own, maybe even share a secret ingredient.


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