Pickling onions was one of the first things I ever tried in the preserving world. And the result obviously led me to a super fun world of canning! This very simple recipe will leave you with a few jars of yummy pickled onions, that are ready to eat same-day. They make a great addition to salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, or wraps. I even dice them up and add them to dips and dressings sometimes. And the best part about pickled onions is that they last for a really long time!Jump to Recipe
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Getting to Know Pickled Onions
I remember when I first became interested in canning and preserving foods, I wasn’t a huge fan of pickles. This initially seemed like a problem since in my mind, the only thing you could can was pickles and jam. I made a point of trying a bunch of types of pickles for a while and slowly I started to find the things that I liked. (See Pickled Beets) But finding pickled red onions was probably one of my favourites. The first time I tasted them was at a restaurant I worked at in Toronto. We would thinly slice pearl onions (the bane of my existence at the time) and soak them for a couple hours in a vinegar/sugar mix. Then serve them that night on a number of dishes as a topping or edible garnish. They were tart and sweet, and the pickling cut through the harshness of the onion just enough that I could eat them by the spoonful.
Since then I’ve seen a few different commercial kitchens do a similar sort of quick pickling with their onions. The idea always seemed to be to serve essentially raw onions, but have them be a little easier on the digestion. Eventually I decided on my own technique, and I’ve been adding them to a lot of foods ever since.
The Perfect Topping
Once I started making these I ended up putting them on almost everything. Obviously burgers, and hot dogs were a good place to start. But I love them on a salad with blue cheese and grilled chicken. Or in a panini with brie, and pesto. They’re even good on pizza. They are also very yummy as a topping for roasted meats like lamb or pork. It’s pretty old fashioned, but makes sense. When you have a rich and fatty meat, using something vinegary and tart can cut through that, and make it much easier on your yummy.
These pickled onions can be used within a couple hours of making them, and will get better over time. The trick to getting use out of them very fast is to slice your onion nice and thin. The thicker the slices, the longer it will take for the vinegar to fully penetrate the onion. Nice thin slices mean you can prep them early in the day and be able to use them that same night with your dinner!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to use a good sharp knife when you’re cutting thin strips like this. Not only will it lessen the stinging onion fumes, but if you cut yourself, the cut will hurt less. Weirdly, the sharper your knife the safer you are. I know it’s weird, but nice clean cuts hurt less and heal more easily. If you’re in need of a good knife but don’t want to shell out $400 for something crazy fancy, I would recommend this one. Henckel makes some of the best “utility” knives I’ve ever used. They’re durable, and easy to work with. This isn’t a paid promotion by Henckel, I just really love their knives for general purpose use.
Simple Pickled Onions
- Sharp Knife
- Large Canning Pot
- 3 Pint Jars, with new lids
- Jar Grabber
- Jar Funnel
- 4 Red Onions
- 1 1/2 cups Red Wine Vinegar
- 1 3/4 cups White Sugar
- 1 cup Water
- 1 tsp Chili Flakes optional
- If canning, Sterilize the jars by placing them in a 250F oven for 10 minutes. (jars only, not the lids)If you aren't going to can the jars, simply fill them with the onions and hot vinegar mix, then store in the fridge.
- Add the vinegar, sugar, and water to a small pot over medium low heat. Bring up to a gentle boil, until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat.
- Place the large canning pot on the stove full about 3/4 the way with water. Start bringing up to a boil while you prepare the onions.
- Peel the onions, and remove the stem and root ends. Cut in half. Then very thinly slice.
- Remove jars from the oven and place on a tea towel on the counter. Fill the three jars with the onion slices, and pack them pretty tight. Divide the 1 tsp of chili flakes between the three jars.
- Using a canning funnel, add the hot vinegar mix to each jar, leaving 1/2 an inch of head space at the top. Use a butter knife to poke out any air bubbles from the jars, and top up with vinegar mix if needed (still making sure to leave 1/2 inch of head space.)
- Close the jars with new lids.
- Once the water in the large pot is boiling, use the jar grabber to transfer the jars into the pot. Boil the jars for 20 minutes. Remove the jars using the jar grabber, and allow them to cool, undisturbed for at least 12 hours. Store in your pantry, then in the fridge once opened. Once opened, they will last in the fridge for a couple months.