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Pickling Perfect: Preserving the Seasons’ Flavors for Year-Round Enjoyment

June 27, 2024

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Pickling Perfect: Preserving the Seasons’ Flavors for Year-Round Enjoyment

Eating Well Year-Round with Pickled Onions

Until I wrote The Complete Guide to Pickling, I rarely pickled onions on their own. I would simply drop slices into other pickle jars, from refrigerator zucchini to canned bread-and-butter cucumbers to fermented kimchi. They weren’t just garnish, and they always ended up on sandwiches or in breakfast potatoes. But I rarely devoted pantry or fridge space to jars of pickled onions.

Once I started creating just such onion-focused recipes for the cookbook, I couldn’t stop. There were so many fun variations, flavors, and uses. Now, I’m simply making the book’s recipes for my own enjoyment, and if you open my fridge today, you’ll find plenty of onion pickles.

A Pickle for Every Onion

Using recipes from my pickling cookbook, you too can pickle all varieties of onions. Cover pearl onions with vinegar or salt brine to drop into cocktails. Quickly pickle red onions in lime juice, letting them turn the juice a bright pink to serve on sourdough bagels with homemade fromage blanc. Let them sit longer in salt brine, topped with a slice of beet, for more gorgeous color. You can even learn to grill them and blend them into a relish.

One of the simplest pickled onion recipes in the book slightly sweetens yellow onions with apple cider vinegar and a spoonful of sugar. I add them to several recipes you can find on the blog, including Marinated and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms and Quick Potato Salad.

Pickling Basics: A Foolproof Formula

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe taken straight from The Complete Guide to Pickling, but here are the basics:

You need just two main ingredients, plus some spices and pickling staples: vinegar, sugar, and salt.

  1. Toss the onions with salt and let them sit.
  2. Make the brine.
  3. Pack everything in a jar and refrigerate.
  4. Wait 24 hours and enjoy.

It’s that simple! The key is finding the right balance of flavors to suit your taste. Start with a mild apple cider vinegar and a light touch of sugar, then adjust to your liking. You can even experiment with different spice blends or add-ins, like sliced beets or fresh herbs.

Preserving Summer’s Bounty

One of the best things about pickling onions is that it allows you to capture the flavors of summer all year round. When the farmers’ market is overflowing with fresh, vibrant onions, it’s the perfect time to stock up and preserve their goodness.

I love to wander the stalls, chatting with the growers and handpicking the most fragrant, crunchy onions. There’s something so satisfying about bringing home a basket brimming with colorful orbs, knowing I can turn them into jars of deliciousness that will brighten up my meals for months to come.

Pickled Onions: Endless Possibilities

Pickled onions are such a versatile ingredient. They add a tangy, crunchy punch to all sorts of dishes, from tacos and burgers to salads and grain bowls. I even like to snack on them straight from the jar – their acidic bite is the perfect palate cleanser.

One of my favorite ways to use them is in homemade fermented pickles. The onions add a lovely crunch and subtle sweetness that balances out the brine. And they look stunning, too, with their jewel-toned hues.

Pickled onions also make a great topping for Thornapple CSA‘s hearty roasted vegetables or grilled meats. I’ll often throw a few slices on top of a baked sweet potato or toss them into a salad for an extra punch of flavor.

Upgrading Classic Dishes

But it’s not just savory dishes that benefit from the addition of pickled onions. They can also elevate sweet treats, like ice cream or sorbet. The acidity helps to cut through the richness, and the crunch provides a delightful textural contrast.

I also love using them to upgrade classic dishes. For example, I’ll stir a few chopped pickled onions into my grandmother’s famous potato salad recipe. The tangy, crunchy bits add a whole new dimension of flavor that takes the dish to the next level.

And let’s not forget about cocktails! Pickled onions make a fantastic garnish for Bloody Marys or gin and tonics. Their bold, briny flavor is the perfect foil for the spirit-forward drinks.

The Art of Pickling

Pickling is truly an art form, one that I’ve come to deeply appreciate through my research and experimentation. It’s a magical process that transforms simple ingredients into something extraordinary, with layers of complex flavors and a satisfying crunch.

The science behind it is fascinating, too. As the onions sit in the acidic brine, their cellular structure changes, locking in their freshness and creating that signature pickled texture. And the addition of spices and aromatics takes the whole experience to new heights, infusing the onions with warm, herbaceous notes.

Mastering Texture and Flavor

One of the key things I’ve learned in my pickling journey is the importance of texture. It’s not enough to just have a tasty brine – the onions themselves need to be perfectly crisp and crunchy. That’s why I always start with a salt soak, which helps to draw out excess moisture and firm up the onions before they go into the jar.

And when it comes to flavor, balance is everything. You want the acidity of the vinegar to shine, but not overwhelm the natural sweetness of the onions. That’s where the sugar and spices come in, helping to create a harmonious interplay of tastes.

It’s a delicate dance, but once you nail the formula, the possibilities are endless. You can experiment with different vinegars, play around with herbs and spices, or even add in other vegetables for a truly customized pickle.

Bringing Sunshine to the Table

Ultimately, what I love most about pickled onions is their ability to bring sunshine to the table, no matter the season. When the cold, gray days of winter set in and the farmers’ markets are barren, those bright, tangy slices are a welcome burst of warmth and color.

I’ll often find myself reaching for a jar of pickled onions when I need a quick flavor boost. They add an instant pop of vibrancy to even the simplest dish, whether it’s a humble grilled cheese or a hearty winter stew.

And when spring and summer roll around again, and the markets are overflowing with fresh, fragrant onions, I find myself in a perpetual state of pickling bliss. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing those jars lined up on my shelves, a reminder of the bounty that’s yet to come.

So if you’re looking to add a little extra zing to your meals, or just want to savor the flavors of the season all year round, I highly recommend giving pickled onions a try. It’s a simple, rewarding process that will have you hooked from the first crunchy, tangy bite.

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