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Pickling Onions and Shallots

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 16 Feb 2017 | comments*Discuss
Pickling Onions And Shallots

Pickling is a great way to preserve your homegrown crop of baby onions or shallots. It’s easier than it sounds, so don’t hesitate – get stuck in using our simple guide!

Equipment You’ll Need

Once you’ve started pickling, you’ll wonder why you haven’t always done it. It’s quick and easy once you have accumulated the right equipment and learnt some basic rules. You’ll need:

  • Jars: You can buy preserving jars with rubber seals that attach to the lids. They provide an airtight seal, look great, and can be reused again and again. Metal lids can rust when they come into contact with vinegar.
  • Non-reactive saucepan: Stainless steel or aluminium are fine. Enamel, brass, copper and iron are unsuitable because they will cause a reaction with the vinegar.
  • Non-reactive bowl: Use glass, steel, or china to soak the onions before pickling.

Basic Rules of Pickling

Start with good quality produce, and your pickle will taste great. But make sure you follow the basic rules – now you’ve assembled the equipment, familiarise yourself with the principles:

  • Salting: The overnight salting draws water out from the onions, giving them a characteristically crunchy texture. DRY salting provides a crunchier texture than WET salting (soaking the onions in brine). Sea salt will give a clearer finish to the pickle.
  • Vinegar is the key component of pickle and chutney. If you prefer sweet pickled onions, you can add 1tsp-1tbsp of sugar to every 1litre jar that you make. When buying vinegar, check that it has between 6 and 8% of acetic acid. You can use malt vinegar – brown (cheaper) or distilled (if you want to preserve the colour of the shallots).
  • Spices: ‘Pickling Vinegar’ often includes spices, so read the label before buying. You may prefer to add your own and experiment to find a blend that you like best. This way, you can start with a simple pickle mixture of peppercorns and bay leaves, and add different flavours to different jars.

Pickled Onions or Shallots

Select firm, bite-sized onions or shallots to make pickle – don’t make the mistake of using up your floppiest specimens. Onions that are labelled as pickling onions will be sweeter and milder than the full-strength varieties. You can adapt this basic blueprint to make your own pickles – adding dried chilli flakes for a spicy kick, or mustard seeds for extra piquancy.

  • For a 1 litre jar of pickled onions:
  • 450g baby onions
  • 600ml water
  • 50g salt
  • 400ml malt vinegar
  • 1tsp pink peppercorns
  • 1tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1tbsp caster sugar – for sweet pickled onions

First prepare the brine and onions. Dissolve the salt in the cold water and put into a large bowl. Cut a thin slice from the base and top of each onion, ensuring that it will remain intact, and remove the outer skin. Drop the onions into the brine as you peel them. Leave the onions overnight (or up to 24 hours) to draw out moisture. In the morning, tip the onions into a colander and pat with kitchen towel to dry out as much as you can.

Prepare the pickling vinegar. (If you'd like to include additional spices such as bay leaves, cardamom or chilli, go ahead - ensuring that you use no more than 1tbsp of spice in total.) Put the spices, sugar and vinegar in a pan and bring the mixture to simmering point. Turn off the heat, strain through a sieve to remove the whole spices, and let the vinegar cool for a while.

Prepare the jar(s). Wash in warm, soapy water and put them into a warm oven (120 degrees C) for 5 minutes to sterilise them. Take out of the oven and leave for another minute or two before packing the onions into the jar. Pour in vinegar as you go, topping up after halfway and finishing with enough vinegar to cover the top layer of onions. Put the rubber seal onto the jar and seal. Turn the jar upside down to cool.

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I've been doing my own pickled onions for myself and my family for 30 years and I di them the same every year . I have about 10 of the sweet jars the glass type NOT plasticwe peel the onions about 20/30 kg.I then put them in a plastic bowl pour salt all over them and toss them about cover with a tea towel then leave them in a cold are (shed) for a day or 2 then bring them in wash of the salt dry them with a towel and fill your jar with the dry onions add the sarsons all spiced pickling vinegar add pepper corns then leave for about 3/4 weeks and they are ready . There firm crunchy and the longer they soak the better . I'm still eating them in February after pickling them in November and there still crunchy and beautiful we use the bigger variety so you can have them with a chunk of cheese and home baked bread of a evening or 2/3 with your roast dinner fantastic . I give alk my family and friends a big sweet jar full in November I do about 10 jar fulls and they keep asking for more and more.Good luck guys n gals ....... Roger .
Rabby - 16-Feb-17 @ 6:18 PM
When making a brine for pickles you need a tablespoon of salt for every pint of water, leave pickles in for no more than 24hrs. 3 kilos to 5 litres is too much. Basically placing pickles in Salk water does two things it removes water from the pickles which makes them crunchy and it separates the layers slightly to help the vinegar penetrate the onion better.Too much salt in the brine and longer than 24 hrs separates the layers too much hence soft pickles. Need to be stored in cold dark place for 6 to ten weeks turning occasionally.
Silverfox - 28-Oct-16 @ 9:03 PM
I live in Spain and am having great difficulty in buying pickleing onions, anyone got any idea where I can buy them as I need 160Kilos.
Pickles - 16-Oct-16 @ 9:04 AM
Hi, I am in the process of doing some pickle onions. Yesterday I made a brine solution withapprox 5 ltrs water and went a bit overboard with the salt 3kilos as was told more salt makes a crispy pickle. Well 24hours later I went to bottle up and onions seem to of gone soft. Have I done something wrong?
Ian - 5-Oct-16 @ 3:56 PM
Hi, I've been given a jar of pickled shallots and they are soft, does anyone know if it's possible to crisp them up again ? Thanks Andrew
Minety15 - 30-Sep-16 @ 2:03 PM
@Hannah - I prefer dry salt rather than brine. Leave them for 24 hours then rinse ,dry and bottle. Your next batch should be good, but I can't help you save this one, maybe someone else can? Good luck in your future pickling.
JoJo - 10-Nov-15 @ 11:29 AM
I have been on a rampage of pickling onions, The recipe I have is to top and tail the onions, leaving the skins on for removal afterwards and put them in a salt brine for a few days. I've checked them this morning and all the onions seem really soft. Any thoughts? help!!
Hannah - 9-Nov-15 @ 11:21 AM
i am unable to getmy pickling onions and cucumbers from normal sauce i'm wonering if you do them if not can you pleaselet me know, would like to do it on line thanks sandra
none - 18-Sep-15 @ 3:13 PM
@stiffers - maybe it's too much salting that's having an effect :/ I can't think of another reason.
June - 6-Aug-15 @ 1:44 PM
why are the outer skins of my pickled shallotsso hard and inedible? I prepare pealed them and coat in salt leaving for 48 hrs then add vinegar and sugar. I do not boil Can anyone help[? many thanks
stiffers - 5-Aug-15 @ 6:11 PM
@Ronnyjack - if you want them softer you soak in salty water before pickling, if you want them crunchier try sprinkling with dry salt as specified in the article. Storing them in a cold dark place helps also.
VegetableExpert - 18-Mar-15 @ 11:21 AM
I've done several jars of pickled onions . When trying them found that they had gone soft . Did them as stated . Soaking in salt water 24hrs and adding spices . They were done about 2 months ago. They were stored in a box and put in a cubard out side. We have had good weather so would the heat make them go soft? I live in turkey.
Ronnyjack - 15-Mar-15 @ 4:42 PM
@Mable - thanks for the advice, tips like this are always helpful.
VegetableExpert - 2-Feb-15 @ 2:34 PM
I always pour boiling water over onions to be pickled leaving to stand until I can handle onions the skins will slide off without any problems and no tears! I then dry salt for 24 hours wash and dry then add to my pickling vinegar.
Mable - 31-Jan-15 @ 3:14 PM
@campervan -You need to use good quality cider vinegar and perhaps next time use a little less than the amount suggested as you can always add more. Before you resign it to the dustbin you have nothing to lose if you empty it all back into a pan and sweeten to taste it with sugar, allow the sugar to dissolve , then bring to the boil, allow to simmer before adding it back to the newly sterilised jars. You might have to leave it for a couple of weeks to see whether it has sweetened.
Jess - 24-Nov-14 @ 2:16 PM
I made some cranberry chutney early this year.....hoping they would do as Christmas presents for this year,but when I have tried it, it tastes very vinegary.....is there anything I can do with them or do I have to throw it all away. Thanks
Campervan - 22-Nov-14 @ 6:39 PM
does anyone know the the name of black shallots ?
skinny - 12-Oct-14 @ 5:09 PM
well have lots of shallots, large ones. So I will have a go at pickling them. They have a little pink on there sides, much like the pickled onions in Spain. I have been told that using balsamic vineger is a wonderful flavour. but thats another day. The onions have grown huge, on the allotment. Last year they were tiny, The blackberries are really good,I put them straight in the freezer. It is pickled grated beet root next, I love being busy, busy, busy...Have a good week.
Kellygirl - 26-Jul-13 @ 7:50 PM
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