English pickled onions

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These powerful pickled onions are traditionally served with plate of cold meats and bread and cheese. They should be made with malt vinegar and stored for at least 6 weeks before eating.

Pickled onions are a popular pickled food consisting of small onions pickled in a solution of vinegar and salt, often with other preservatives and flavourings. In the United Kingdom they are often eaten alongside fish and chips or as part of a ploughman’s lunch. There is a variety of small white pickled onions known as ‘silverskin’ onions, most frequently used as an essential component of the Martini cocktail variant known as a Gibson.

Pickled onions are pickled in malt vinegar and the onions are about an inch in diameter. Silverskin onions are pickled in white vinegar, and are much smaller.


1 kg pickling onions

2 – 3 dried red chillies

5 cm piece fresh root ginger, sliced

2 – 3 blades mace

2 – 3 fresh bay leaves

115 g salt

750 ml malt vinegar

15 ml / 1 tbsp sugar

5 ml / 1 tsp brown mustard seeds

5 ml / 1 tsp allspice berries

5 ml / 1 tsp black peppercorns

15 ml / 1 tbsp coriander seeds


To peel the onions, trim off the root ends, but leave the onion layers attached. Cut a thin slice off the top (neck) end of the onion. Place the onions in a bowl, then cover with boiling water. Leave to stand for 4 minutes, then drain. The skin should then easy to peel using a small, sharp knife.

Place the peeled onions in a bowl and cover with cold water, then drain the water into a large pan. Add the salt and heat slightly to dissolve it, then cool before pouring the brine over the onions. Place a plate inside the top of the bowl and weight it down slightly so that it keeps all the onions submerged in the brine. Leave to stand for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, place the vinegar in a large pan. Wrap all the remaining inredients, except the bay leaves, in a piece of muslin (cheesecloth). Bring to the boil, simmer for about 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Set aside and leave to infuse overnight.

Drain the onions, rinse and pat dry. pack them into sterilized 450 g / 1 lb jars. Add some or all of the spice from the vinegar, except the ginger slices. The pickle will become hotter if you add the chillies. Pour the vinegar over to cover and add the bay leaves. Seal the jars with non-metallic lids and store in a cool, dark place for at least 6 weeks before eating.