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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