This British pickled onion recipe is as traditional as it gets. Mildly spiced with coriander seed, mustard seed, black pepper and bay leaves. It’s the taste of long hot British summers and lunches in pub beer gardens...
The recipe is pretty easy to prepare, the greatest difficulties lie with peeling the onions but there are labour saving techniques to help reduce the workload…
Our traditional British pickled onion recipe will make five 1 litre jars of crunchy onions.
4kg bag of pickling onions.
250g of fine sea salt. Avoid using table salt as it can cause discoloration.
2.5 litres of dark malt vinegar.
600g of granulated sugar.
80g of ginger root.
3 tbsp yellow mustard seed.
3 tbsp coriander seeds.
1 tbsp black pepper corns.
1⁄2 tsp whole cloves (optional).
6 dried chillies (optional).
8 bay leaves.
Our traditional British pickled onion recipe is prepared over two days. On day one the vinegar is infused with the spices and the onions peeled and salted. On day two everything is ready for the onions to be added to the jars.
Preparing the Spiced Vinegar
Pour the vinegar into a saucepan and gently heat while adding the sugar. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
Put the bay leaves aside. Give the ginger root a quick bashing, add it and the other spices to the vinegar and bring to the boil slowly with the saucepan lid on. Take off the heat and set aside to allow the spices to infuse into the vinegar overnight.
The following day filter the vinegar through cheese cloth or muslin.
Peeling the Onions
Topping, tailing and then plunging the onions briefly into hot water will loosen their skins making them easier to peel.
Using either a sharp knife or sharp scissors top and tail the onions.
Use a a stock pot large enough to contain all your onions with some room to spare. Fill it 3⁄4 with water and place on a high heat. After it comes to the boil carefully transfer to your sink. Tip in all the onions and start a timer. At the end of 20 seconds rapidly douse the stock pot with cold water from the tap, allowing the pot to overflow until all the remaining water is cold.
Strain the onions and begin peeling them right away. Discard any bad onions or cut away bruised or damaged areas. The onions may simply pop out of the outer layers when squeezed hard. Try to remove all the thin membranes that are found between each layer, these can make the vinegar go cloudy in the jars .
Brining the Onions
Lay the peeled onions out on a large plastic or stainless steel tray and sprinkle over the salt. Cover with a tea towel and leave overnight or for 12 hours but no more.
Rinse the onions thoroughly in a colander to remove the salt and set aside to drain.
Preparing and Filling the Jars
This recipe makes five litres of onions with a little extra vinegar to spare. For this recipe I’m using five 1 litre Kilner round clip-top jars which have wide mouths for easy filling.
Ensure that your jars and lids are well sanitised. Place your jars in a cold oven and heat to 130oC for 20 minutes. Metal lids and rubber seals can be boiled in water for 20 minutes. Allow the jars to cool in the oven until they can be safely handled but are still warm to the touch. Bear in mind that pouring hot vinegar into cold jars may crack them.
While waiting for the jars to come out of the oven get the spiced vinegar back on a the hob in a saucepan and hold at a simmer with the pan lid on.
Fill the jars with onions, packing them in as tightly as you can while leaving 2cm of head space at the top of the jars. Place two bay leaves in each jar as you go.
Using a jar funnel ladle the hot vinegar into the jars. Clean the rim and then seal each jar as it is filled.
Storing and Eating Your Pickled Onions
The onions are ready to eat after about a month and will store well for at least a year kept in a cool place out of direct sunlight. After that the texture starts to suffer. Once open keep your pickled onions in the fridge and consume within a week or two.
American readers might question why we Brits don’t process these onions in a water bath canner? The reason is that they go soft and loose all their crunch. Anyhow a near 100% vinegar brine is an extremely hostile environment for harmful microbes.