This recipe for Pickled Onions is one I have used more times than I could possibly count since I learned how to make them. They are so useful and add tons of bright acidic tang to burgers, tacos and cheese and charcuterie boards.

a jar of pickled red onions from the side, a fork lifting up strands of the onion

This post contains affiliate links. I originally shared this recipe for Pickled Onions on March 14th 2012. {Wow! That was so long ago.} I have updated everything here today except the recipe itself which remains my go-to way to make pickled onions. Hope you enjoy it. 

I first learned about pickled onions when I was working as an intern from Culinary School in the kitchen at Smokejacks back in the early 2000s. On our menu we used these picked onions to garnish our smoked salmon platter and our burgers. We also had a bagel plate for brunch with them as well. Since then I have made them often. Sometimes to add to a cheese or charcuterie board or to top our burgers for dinner.

I have also since learned that pickled onions are a traditional garnish for fish tacos. They have so many uses! Scroll down to see all sorts of ideas! 

Pickled onions in a jar

 

How To Make Quick Pickled Red Onions

Making these is so easy I don’t even need a recipe anymore when I make them because I have done it so many times and it is so easy! Once you have done it a few times you’ll see what I mean. Here’s the run down of how to make them. 

What Kind of Onions To Use For Pickled Onions

You can use ANY variety of onion you want to make these! I like to use red onions because I love the bright pink color they come out. But you could use white, yellow or sweet onions. I have even used this recipe for chopped ramps (wild leeks) and it worked too. You can learn more about the difference in the varieties of onions in my Guide To Onions

Slice The Onions

  • Start by slicing the onion as thinly as possible. I used a mandoline. I also have these gloves which come in handy, wink! But if you cut the onions by hand that’s okay too, just try to get the slices as thin as possible. 
  • You can also finely dice the onions. That’s how we prepared them for the salmon plates at Smokejack’s. 
  • Set the onions into a heatproof bowl. If given the choice, I recommend a tall narrow shape to a wide bowl so that more of the pickling brine covers the onions. 

Ingredients For The Pickling Brine

Vinegar

I use red wine vinegar because it has the best color for the bright pink results I love, but you can also use white wine vinegar or another variety of vinegar to change up the results. You can read more about the different types of vinegar here

Maple Syrup

Here’s where my recipe varies from the one at Smokejacks restaurant. I use maple syrup because my husband and I make our own maple syrup and we always have a ton on hand. It’s my sweetener of choice.

Alternatively, you can use plain white sugar if you prefer, or another natural sweetener like honey or agave. Note that coconut sugar or brown sugar will darken the brine but the pickled onions themselves will not be  noticeably darker.

If you skip using the sweetener, the onions will come out bracingly tart.

Salt

I know a teaspoon of salt seems like a lot, but it balances the sour in the vinegar. Plus you don’t end up drinking the brine, so it only acts to flavor the onions. You can use fine sea salt in place of the salt, but don’t sub in kosher salt unless you read this first. 

Pickling Spice

Here’s the secret that makes these pickled onions better than most that you’ll find around on the internet. These have a sweet warm spice flavor thanks to the pickling spice. If you’re not familiar with pickling spice it is a blend of sweet and savory dried spices and is sold by major spice brands in most supermarkets. I use McCormick

If you do not have it, you can sub in any combo of cinnamon stick, red pepper flakes, allspice berries and bay leaf. Or in a pinch adding a dash of ground cinnamon adds a nice touch. 

For more neutral tasting onions, you can skip the pickling spice. 

Cooked Brine Vs Not

This is a cooked brine which serves three purposes:

  1. Since it is hot, it pickles the onions much faster than room temperature or refrigerated brine. It softens them within minutes and are ready to eat within 45 minutes. 
  2. Heating it up is sort of like making a tea or infusion, and it allows the flavors of the pickling spices to steep into the vinegar solution quickly. They can then be strained out so you don’t get spices lodged in between strands of onion.
  3. It also melts the salt into the solution easily so you don’t have to worry about whisking it in to melt it. (If you use granulated sugar, this would also be the case.)

How To Make The Brine

  1. Whisk together the vinegar, maple syrup salt and spice in a medium non-reactive saucepan. 
  2. Bring the brine up to a simmer.
  3. Simmer for three minutes to allow the spices to bloom their flavors into the vinegar solution. 

Steep The Onions in The Hot Pickling Brine

You’ll need a fine mesh sieve to catch the whole spices. As I mentioned, you don’t want to have to fish whole spices out of your pickled onions, so it’s easier to strain them out at this point. 

Pour the brine through the sieve over the onions. 

The brine will not completely cover the onions (see my video) so you’ll just want to settle the onion down into the brine with a fork.

Every five minutes, use the fork to toss the onions. You’ll notice that they start to turn bright pink and soften almost immediately. They will get more pliable as they cool. 

a close up of a jar of pickled onions

Steps To Make This Recipe

How To Store Them

Transfer them to a jar and pour the pickling brine over them. They will last a couple weeks this way in the fridge. I do not recommend trying to use a boiling water canner to make them shelf stable as it will change their texture. 

cheese and crackers with pickled onions on top

How To Use Pickled Onions

You can eat them as soon as they are cool. They have a crispness to them which is lovely, while they are softened and bendable.

Take out what you want from the brine and serve them drained. Keep the brine for storing any leftover/unused pickled onions. Here are some ideas for how to use them: 

turkey burger with pickled onions on top

I could go on and on! There are so many uses. If you make them please comment below and let me know how you use them and leave a star rating! 

Happy Cooking!

~Katie

 

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a jar of pickled red onions from the side, a fork lifting up strands of the onion

Pickled Onions

  • Author: Katie Webster
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 2 cups 1x
  • Category: Side dish
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: American

Description

These easy Pickled Onions with red wine vinegar and pickling spice are sweetened with maple syrup. They are a simple addition to burgers, tacos or charcuterie board.


Scale

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon pickling spice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced preferably with a mandoline

Instructions

  1. Make Pickling Brine: Stir vinegar, syrup, pickling spice salt and pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat and boil 3 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Cover Onions with Brine: Place onion in a medium heat-proof bowl or measuring cup. Strain the hot vinegar mixture through a fine-mesh sieve over the onions. Toss the onions with a fork. Note they will not be completely covered. Discard the solids from the sieve.
  3. Let onions cool in the pickling liquid until room temperature, stirring every 5 minutes, about 30 minutes. Store onions in the liquid in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

Notes

Variations

You can substitute white onion and white vinegar and they will not be pink.

You can also omit the pickling spices for more neutral tasting onions.

For a finer garnish you can finely dice the onion.


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/4 cup
  • Calories: 34 calories
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Saturated Fat: o g
  • Carbohydrates: 8 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

 

*tip: Philly cut: I made this term up because as far as I know there is no culinary term for this style of cutting an onion. But I call it that because it’s the way fry cooks cut onions in Philadelphia for cheese-steaks. That means, peel, remove root, cut in half through the stem and root end. Cut into half moons parallel to the equator. When cut this way, the onion slices break down more easily when cooked.

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As opposed to a French cut ( by the way, that is a real term that I didn’t make up) which is to peel, core, cut in half through the stem and root end. Cut in slices perpendicular to the equator. These stay together nicely when cooked and the size of the slices are consistent.

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