February 5, 2012

If you’ve been reading along here, you know I’m a big fan of pickles.

While it’s all cold and dreary, I try to amuse myself with little kitchen projects – the kind of food I might appreciate later in the year. One of those projects, and a real pain in the <ahem> – is pickling cocktail onions. But oh so worth it – a few minutes with scissors or a paring knife and slippery, teeny onions, and you’ll have a jar full of perfect pickled orbs. Enough for quite awhile.

While I love a great martini, and a dry, crisp, cold martini served in a classic glass with the perfect olive is a thing of beauty… the Gibson is my favorite liquid companion for a charcuterie board. Especially bresaola, with the juniper tones ringing through.

Next time you’re at the store pick up the small net bag of those pearly white onions. Dig around the bin for the smallest, firmest onions you can find. Hint: in early spring, talk to your farmers. Often, they’ll bring you the little onions they thin out of rows – those are perfect for pickling and need no peeling or pre-boiling. Winning!

So, c’mon, make a pretty pickle that is not only delicious in a cocktail, but lovely with cheese or cured meats.

PS Speaking of pickles, did you see my giardiniera article in last Wednesday’s New York Times Dining and Wine section? So darn exciting!

Juniper Pickled Onions
Makes one pint

1 bag of small pearl white onions, preferably organic

1 c clean water (beware tap water with a high chlorine content)
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 T maple sugar, maple syrup or dark honey
3 juniper berries
1 allspice berry
1 cardamom pod, opened and the seeds scraped out
6 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Two large pieces of lemon peel

Cut a shallow X in the root end of each onion and drop into a small saucepan.
Cover the onions with water and a generous pinch of salt.
Boil for 5 minutes.

Strain the onions, then rinse well in cold water.
Shock the onions in ice water to stop the cooking.

Using kitchen scissors, snip the root end off each onion, and the very tip if it’s sprouted or browning, Remove the outside peel to reveal a perfect white onion.

Drop the onions into the sterilized jar or jars.

Make a brine by heating the remaining ingredients to just below a boil.

Cover the onions with the hot brine. You may have brine left over, don’t worry, but do make sure all the seeds and leaves are in the ja/s.

Cool the onions, then refrigerate. The pickles will be ready to eat in about a week and have lasted in my refrigerator for more than six months.

If you are a fabulous jar hoarder (I’m looking at you!) select one of the particularly darling ones, and fill it with these charming onions. They make a great gift.

22 Responses to “getting pickled. cocktail onions.”

    • Cathy

      Also really delicious with cheese, charcuterie or a meaty sandwich. You’ll find pickled onions served with a Ploughman’s Lunch in the UK, for instance.

  1. mpw280

    My mother in law in South Africa makes them with malt vinegar and a hot chili in the jar. They are reported to be very good, I don’t eat them so I don’t really know first hand. mpw

  2. emily | nomnivorous

    pickled onions are probably my favorite all-around pickle. quick pickled sliced red onion was the first pickle i ever made and i love how versatile pickled alliums are. while juniper isn’t my first choice in flavors, i’ll have to tackle the baby onions sometime soon and create my own concoction based on this!

  3. Joanna

    Love this recipe. I think I’d put a little vinegar into it, because that’s how we pickle onions in the UK, especially if we’re going to eat them with cheese. But I’m intrigued, the onions you’d use in a martini, would they always be brined but not vinegared?

    • Cathy

      Hi Joanna, I usually quick pickle red onions in vinegar, especially for tacos or with cheese, but in this instance prefer a brine. I’m not crazy about vinegar in my martini!

  4. donna morang

    I love these tiny little onions, but have a horrid time finding them, or if I find them they are outrageously expensive. I have an amazing recipe for mustard pickles, but it needs a ton of these little gems. I miss those glorious pickles.

  5. Mo

    Weird question, but where do you get juniper berries? Off the ground? Can I just forage? I’ve been seeing them everywhere up here and I’ve been meaning to research what I can do with them. I got the most insanely amazing jar of cornishons and pickled pearl onions at this little bistro that has a little store/bakery attached. I so wish I had their recipe. Perfect level of spices. And as soon as I can convince myself to spend $22 on a jar of mustard, I’m going back for their crazy spicy French mustard.

    • Cathy

      You can forage and dry the berries, certainly. I get mine in the spice aisle at the grocery store or at Penzey’s (mail order or the store.) They smell so good and add a flavor unlike anything else to all sorts of foods.

  6. Neal

    Hi Cathy,

    I made the recipe and was a little confused. Did you mean 2 table spoons of Kosher salt? You wrote: 2 Tbls Kosher salt

    I felt it was too salty, for my taste. Did I make a mistake?


    • Cathy

      Neal, I’m sorry – it’s two teaspoons. I’ve been working on this recipe for awhile, and should have updated here. I’m going to make the change right after responding to your comment!

  7. Rene

    Reading this post and replies is making my mouth water. I think they may well be on the agenda for the weekend….Just in time for the New Year! Which reminds me, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!

    • Cathy

      I’ve never processed them – usually just make one jar and refrigerate. It will last a long time around here. I’m sure you could process for 15 min (half pints.)

      • lauren

        Hi kathryn and Cathy,

        Love this recipe, am going to make tomorrow:) Just wanted to remind that if you’re actually canning these, they need to be made with acidity to be safe, usually white vinegar as it doesn’t change the flavors of the recipe as much as other vinegars. Generally 1/2 the amount of vinegar to onion. ex. 1 cup of onion, 1/2 cup of vinegar.

  8. Dave G

    In addition to the brine, I add about a Tbs of blue Curaçao or food coloring. It transforms the onions into a royal sapphire orbs. These are used for my evening martini which also includes 2-3 drops of Curaçao, just for the effect. Almost as delic as a blue cheese stuffed olive.

  9. Nancy Caldwell

    I’m going to order Cardamom pods from Penzeys. They carry white, green or black pods. May I ask which type you used? And did you put the pod in also after opening it?



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