How to Pickle Onions
A bright pop of color and bold flavor, pickled onions are a fridge staple that can amp up even the most boring of meals. They're also incredibly easy to make, meaning you can have a steady supply on hand with little effort. Customize each batch with your choice of onions, vinegars, sugars, and add-ins to create a unique pickled treat every time.
If you start with a basic formula, you can experiment and mix-and-match your ingredients and their ratios to make custom pickled onions to fit all your flavor needs.
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced or finely chopped
Mix together the first four ingredients until the salt and sugar dissolve. Stuff the onions and any add-ins into an air-tight lidded jar. Pour the brine mixture into the jar, cover, and leave to sit at room temperature for an hour. Place in the fridge, where the onions will keep for about two to three weeks.
Red onions are by far the most popular type of onion for pickling because of both their vibrant color and mild flavor. But if you want to change things up, you can use pretty much any variety of onions instead. Sweet onions can be found at the grocery store under the name of Vidalias, Walla Wallas, or Mauis and make a great contrast to the tangy brine. White or yellow onions, commonly used for cooking, will have an extra bold onion flavor. Shallots also work well too in pickling recipes, creating a more onion-garlic hybrid taste.
Your onions need to be prepped before being pickled. The most common way is to thinly slice them into either whole circles or sliced into half-moons. This shape is excellent for topping any kind of dish. But if you're more of a relish fan and plan to use these onions as a condiment, you can finely dice the onions too to create a finely textured pickle.
Which vinegar you choose can make the biggest impact on the flavor of your finished pickled onions. White vinegar is a great starting point, with a clean taste and plenty of bite. Apple cider vinegar adds fruity notes. Rice vinegar is the go-to for super mild pickles, since it has a sweet and mellow flavor. Red or white wine vinegars create the vibrant depth of wine, just choose based on which variety of wine you prefer drinking. Malt vinegar is created from ale, meaning it lends a taste that's slightly toasty and nutty.
Sugar is necessary in pickles to balance out the bold tang of vinegar. Granulated white sugar is a safe bet, easy to dissolve and consistent in flavor. More natural sugars, like turbinado or coconut sugar, can be used too, adding a more molasses-like taste to the pickles and potentially darkening the brine. Liquid sugars, such as honey or agave nectar, also get the job done. Since these two have the most bold flavor of sweeteners on our list, try adding these to taste into your brine.
While you don't have to use them, add-ins are one of the most fun part of making pickled onions. They can create custom flavors with each homemade jar, ranging from spicy to sweet to herbaceous. Reach for spices like peppercorns, cumin seeds, star anise, or mustard seeds. Fresh or dried herbs can add boldness; try thyme, cilantro, rosemary, or oregano. You can make your pickled onions spicy, slice up a raw jalapeño or serrano pepper, or toss in a few dried chilies. And don't forget about fresh ingredients like garlic cloves, sliced ginger, or citrus zest.
How to Use Pickled Onions
The sky is the limit with pickled onions. Use them as a sandwich or burger topper. Toss with salads and grain bowls. Stir into marinades and salad dressing. Or finely chop them and spread it onto your next hot dog or grilled cheese. Anything that needs a tangy boost of flavor can benefit from pickled onions.