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How to make Quick-Pickled Red OnionsOriginally Published September 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 4, 2013 at 2:33 p.m.
If you were to peek into my refrigerator any day of the week, any season of the year, you will surely find a jar of pickled red onions. This bright, jewel-toned condiment offers a zesty tang to countless dishes and adds a lovely splash of color as well. It takes about 10 minutes to assemble and lasts for weeks in the refrigerator. What more can you want from a pickle?
There are countless uses for pickled onions. Tuck them into sandwiches, especially those with rich meats such as pulled pork; use them as a condiment to top tacos, bean dishes and rich mayo-based salads such as potato or egg salad; toss them into lettuce salads, grain salads and salads with sturdy greens such as kale. The onions’ bright pink color, crunchy texture and piquant flavor will perk up almost any dish. They’re also perfect for serving with sandwich and salad buffets at parties.
I like to cut my onions into rings because I find the tangled loops are easier to scoop from the jar, and I like the way they look. If you prefer, you can also cut the onions into half moons. They can be sliced paper thin or into rather-thick, half-inch slices, but I like to split the difference and slice them slightly thinner than quarter-inch thick.
I only use red onions for my pickled onions, but yellow or white onions can be used as well. Of course, you won’t get that lovely bright pink color, but if that’s not a factor, then give it a try. Be sure to use a firm onion that is free of soft spots and blemishes.
I usually use a pale-colored vinegar such as rice vinegar or white-wine vinegar. If I happen to be out of those, apple-cider vinegar will do. Do not use the industrial white vinegar that comes in large gallon containers, as it is too harsh-tasting.
The sugar provides a nice balance to the salty vinegar brine, but you can leave it out if you are avoiding sugar. Honey or another sugar substitute might work, but start with less, just to be safe.
At their most basic, pickled red onions are simply sliced onions that have been covered in a mixture of vinegar, salt and sugar and allowed to marinate. It’s a lot of fun to add additional spices and to customize the mixture to match your dish. In the recipe below, I used my favorite mixture of flavorings, which includes fresh garlic and a chili for added oomph. You can leave them out or add additional selections such as a bay leaf or herbs such as rosemary or oregano, orange peel or cloves. Asian spices such as star anise, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper and fresh ginger also make a nice garnish for a rice-based stir-fry or other Asian dishes.
Over time, the onions will eventually turn a uniform shade of vivid pink. Be sure to store your pickled onions in a glass or ceramic container. Most metals will react with the vinegar, and plastic will absorb the flavors. I like to use a pretty canning jar so I can just grab the onions from the refrigerator and plunk them on the table with no fuss.
Quick-Pickled Red Onions
Makes about 2 cups
1 firm red onion, about 5 ounces
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup rice vinegar, white-wine vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
1 small garlic clove, halved
5 black peppercorns
5 allspice berries
3 small sprigs of thyme
1 small dried chili
Kettle for boiling water
Knife and cutting board
Sieve or colander
Clean jar or container
Slice onions: Start 2 or 3 cups of water to boil in a kettle. Peel and thinly slice the onion into approximately 1/4-inch moons. Peel and cut the garlic clove in half.
Dissolve sugar and salt: In the container you will use to store the onions, add the sugar, salt, vinegar and flavorings. Stir to dissolve.
Par-blanch the onions: Place onions in sieve, and place the sieve in the sink. Slowly pour the boiling water over the onions, and let them drain.
Add onions to the jar (or chosen container), and stir gently to evenly distribute the flavorings.
Store: The onions will be ready in about 30 minutes but are better after a few hours. Refrigerate. They will keep for several weeks but are best in the first week.
Dana Velden is a writer for TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.