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How to Make Pickled Onions

Gordon loves cooking and experimenting with food. He loves making new dishes, particularly with unusual or underused ingredients.

Homemade pickled onions with bread, ham and cheese.

Homemade pickled onions with bread, ham and cheese.

Pickled onions are popular throughout the UK. They are sold in fish and chip shops as an accompaniment to fish and chips, and they are bought in supermarkets in jars to accompany many different dishes, such as the simple cold salad featured above.

It is a shame in many ways that more people don't pickle onions at home in modern times as a bit of experimentation with potential pickling spices can produce magnificent results, tailored to suit individual tastes. The basics of how to pickle onions are the same in each instance and are covered below, but the spices which can be incorporated are many. This article features just a fraction of the combinations which can be employed.

These small onions are perfect for making homemade pickled onions.

These small onions are perfect for making homemade pickled onions.

What Type of Onions Are Suited to Pickling?

The actual types of onions which are suitable for pickling are many, but they generally fall into one of two categories. There are the bigger varieties such as those featured on this page—around an inch to an inch in a half in diameter—and there are the smaller kind, sometimes referred to as silverskin onions.

These onions were bought from the supermarket, where they were actually labelled as pickling onions and are of the type likely to be found in British fish and chip shops. If you are in doubt which types of onions available to you are suitable for pickling, ask in the store for advice.

Step 1: Peel and Salt the Onions

It is important when peeling onions for pickling that you remove as little of the flesh of the onions as possible.

  1. Start by cutting a thin slice off the top and bottom of each onion. All you want to do is remove any remaining root and stem.
  2. Either with a knife or with your fingers, proceed to strip the skin away. You will find there is a thin, almost plastic-like membrane under the skin which should also be removed. This is a bit of an awkward and time-consuming job—depending upon how many onions you are pickling—but it is important to take your time and do it properly, not only to ensure the best results but to avoid a nasty cut with the knife.
  3. When the onions are peeled, place them in a glass or stone bowl and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Stir them to ensure even coating and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  4. Leave them in the salt for twelve to twenty-four hours. This helps the different layers of the onion to expand slightly and be more receptive to the pickling spices and vinegar. Do not leave the onions in the salt for any longer than twenty-four hours as this will cause them to break down too much and become overly soft and mushy.

Photo Tutorial

Peeling onions for pickling.

Peeling onions for pickling.

Peeled onions should be salted prior to pickling.

Peeled onions should be salted prior to pickling.

Salted onions are covered with plastic wrap.

Salted onions are covered with plastic wrap.

Top Tip to Prevent Crying When Peeling Onions

It is a common problem when peeling onions that the process can cause the eyes to water, sometimes quite severely. There are a great many theories as to how this effect can be prevented or at least minimised. There is one method, however, that is foolproof for preventing tears being shed when peeling onions: Have someone else peel them on your behalf!

What Do You Do?

Step 2: Prepare and Pack Your Jars

  1. The jars and lids which you are going to use to make your pickled onions should be sterilised and dried. If you are going to be using jars with metal lids, you will need to put a piece of plastic between the lid and the jar to prevent the vinegar corroding the lid.
  2. Put the salted onions in a colander and rinse under running water. Drain well.
  3. Pack the onions tightly in to your jar or jars. For an approximately one pint jar like this, add half a teaspoon of sugar, one teaspoon of whole mustard seeds and one crumbled dried bay leaf.
  4. Put some malt pickling vinegar in to a jug and pour in to the jar to fill completely, ensuring all the onions are fully covered. If desired, the vinegar can be diluted to produce a slightly less acidic taste. Use three parts vinegar to one part cold water.
  5. Take a sheet of plastic wrap about ten inches square and fold it over twice to form a four layered, five inch square. Lay it over the open jar and press in to place to seal. Put the lid on and tighten.
  6. It is important to label your jar with the pickling date but when you are experimenting with pickling spices, you should also include on the label details of which spices were used for your future reference.
  7. The onions should now be stored in a cool, dark place for a minimum of four weeks to pickle but six to eight weeks will produce even better results.
  8. Once the jars are opened, they should be stored in the refrigerator and the onions consumed within a couple of weeks.

Photo Tutorial

The salt is firstly rinsed off the pickling onions.

The salt is firstly rinsed off the pickling onions.

Onions and pickling spices are added to a jar.

Onions and pickling spices are added to a jar.

Malt vinegar is poured into the jar with the onions and spices.

Malt vinegar is poured into the jar with the onions and spices.

Plastic wrap is placed on the jar before the metal lid.

Plastic wrap is placed on the jar before the metal lid.

The pickled onions are labelled with the pickling date and spice mixture.

The pickled onions are labelled with the pickling date and spice mixture.

Try Different Spices

If you buy a bag of pickling onions, why not experiment with different spices in each jar? Other spices which are commonly included are:

  • allspice
  • black peppercorns
  • cinnamon
  • cardamom seeds
  • and lots more

It is even possible to buy precombined pickling spices from your supermarket. Remember only to label your jars so that you can remember which spices are in each and that you can, through time, develop your own favourite spice mix.

Thank you for visiting this article, and hopefully you have found it useful. Any feedback or comments you have may be left in the space slightly below.

Comments

Paul Dodkns on November 13, 2016:

Use a good very sharp knife peeling onions

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on August 19, 2015:

Thank you, Elizabeth. Glad you like the recipe. The bread method is a new one on me but if it works, that's all that matters.

Elizabeth on August 13, 2015:

P.S. Thanks for posting your recipe! I love pickled onions. :)

Elizabeth on August 13, 2015:

Regarding the onions making your eyes tear up -- I voted "other." I hold a piece of bread in my mouth while I'm working with the onion, peeling and chopping (if necessary). Not my original idea--it was suggested to me years ago, don't remember my source, and it works for some crazy reason!

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on November 29, 2011:

Hi, MonetteforJack. Yes, there are certain vinegars which are specifically designed for pickling but most vinegars are suitable for the purpose. Any strong malt vinegar is suitable for pickling onions this way.

Thanks for the visit and comment and I hope you give this a try.

MonetteforJack from Tuckerton, NJ on November 29, 2011:

I didn't realized there is a certain vinegar for pickling. Thanks for sharing and the info!

Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on November 29, 2011:

Thanks, Steph. They are delicious, I promise. Unfortunately, they are also addictive... :)

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on November 29, 2011:

Sounds delicious! I love onions, and pickling them looks great. Nice, easy to follow hub. Great pics. Rated up!