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Many of us, myself included, have avoided buying pearl onions because of the thought of peeling all those little suckers. But to my surprise, once you have learned how to peel them, you’ll be amazed at how easy it really is. And, it’s worth the effort, because they really are delectable.
Start by putting the onions in a pan of boiling water and allow them to boil for a couple minutes. Then, drain them in a colander.
Immediately plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. After cutting off the root end of each onion, squeeze the onion slightly and it will pop right out of its skin. Once peeled, add them to stews or soups. Or, you could sauté them with some mushrooms and red pepper for a colorful vegetable to serve with dinner.
A really tasty recipe is Sweet and Sour Onions, which are just as tasty at room temperature as they are hot.
Once you’ve learned the easy technique in peeling these beauties, you’ll be making many more dishes with pearl onions.
Sweet and Sour Onions
3-4 cups fresh pearl onions, peeled
3 Tbsps. olive oil or butter
3 Tbsps cider or malt vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt so it tastes like the ocean…don’t be stingy. Boil onions until tender. Smaller onions need less time. Onions need to be al dente, not soft, because they will cook more in the frying pan; drain well and set aside.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. After oil is hot, add the onions. Allow them to sizzle until some browning takes place on a couple sides, about 4-5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix the honey and vinegar until the honey is dissolved. Add mixture to the onions (it may spit and sizzle violently). Turn the onions to coat and reduce the heat to medium. Sprinkle all over with salt. Continue to cook until honey becomes a thick syrup. Turn the onions often to coat evenly.
Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.
What about frozen pearl onions?
Will frozen pearl onions caramelize as well as fresh ones? Probably, but they will take a little longer to cook because of the extra water in the pan from ice crystals on the onions. The excess water will tend to steam the onions a bit before they start caramelizing. This could cause a slight change in texture, but the water will eventually cook off, and the onions will then caramelize.
Boiling onions vs. pearl onions
I’ve seen boiling onions that are as small as pearl onions, but true boiling onions will taste quite a bit stronger than pearl onions. Some supermarkets (as opposed to farmer’s markets) may mark boiling onions as pearl onions, so telling the difference between the two may be difficult.
But for most recipes, they’re pretty much interchangeable.
From a taste standpoint, they taste about the same, but visually, most boiling onions are two to three times the size of a real pearl onion. A larger size onion could overwhelm what you’re trying to cook with them.
Creamy Baked Pearl Onions
3 Tbsps. flour
3 Tbsps. butter
1/2 can evaporated milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 cups fresh pearl onions, peeled
3/4 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsps. sherry
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour to make a rue; cook and stir a few minutes until blended. Add hot milk and hot broth; stir well to blend. Add sherry and increase to high heat to thicken, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add spices, cheese and onions and then fold into a casserole. Top with cracker crumbs. Bake for 45 minutes. Makes 6 servings.
Roasted Herbed Potatoes with Pearl Onions
2 lbs. red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
2 cups fresh pearl onions, peeled
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsps. dried basil
2 tsps. dried thyme
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine olive oil, basil, thyme, paprika, salt, rosemary and pepper. Add potatoes and onions. Toss mixture lightly to coat with oil and seasonings. Transfer to a cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are browned and tender. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to serve. Makes 4-6 servings.
Creamy Parmesan Red Potatoes with Peas and Onions
2 lbs baby red potatoes
1/2 stick butter
2 Tbsps. minced garlic
1/4 cup flour
2-1/4 cups half and half
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (16 oz.) pkg. frozen baby peas, thawed and drained
1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen pearl onions, thawed and drained
Place whole potatoes in a pot of boiling salted water; boil about 20 minutes or until fork-tender; drain and cool. Once cooled, cut potatoes in half.
In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add garlic and saute for about one minute. Add flour and whisk for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the flour. Gradually add half and half and bring to a simmer, whisking continuously for another minute. Add whipping cream and mix to combine; add Parmesan cheese.
Season with salt and pepper and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add cooked potatoes, peas and onions; bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.
Transfer to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with more grated Parmesan and black pepper (optional). Makes 4-6 servings.