How to Pickle Your Own Red Onions

Updated 07/29/19

Nadine Greeff/Stocksy

With an eye-catching magenta hue and enviable crunch, when you first encountered pickled red onions you might have thought of them merely as an unnecessary side—a pop of color on the plate—but after just one bite it’s likely you realized you didn’t have nearly enough and promptly asked the wait staff for more. But did you know these very same can-I-have-more-please pickled red onions are incredibly easy to make at home?

Requiring minimal ingredients but packing a hefty punch of flavor, pickled red onions are an acidic accoutrement that offer a tart, saliva-inducing kick to a variety of dishes. From weeknight tacos or pizza, to brunch-worthy omelets or breakfast sandwiches, braised meats or curries, and all sorts of salads—be they egg, potato, pasta, grain, or green leaf—it’s about time you made room in your fridge for a jar of impress-your-guests pickled red onions.

Pickled red onions
 Suzanne Clements/Stocksy

How to Make Pickled Red Onions: Two Ways

While both recipes below are fast, easy, and require the same ingredients, the techniques differ to give you softer or more crisp pickled red onions. If you like them more flexible in texture, go for the “traditional” onions. If it’s that tart crunch you crave, skip down to the “quick” variation. Whatever your preference, they will keep for up to 3 weeks in the fridge, but it’s my personal opinion that they taste best within a week of making them.

“Traditional” Pickled Red Onions

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions:

Peel and slice off the top and root end of the onion. Thinly slice as is for rings. For half moons, stand it up on a flat end and halve it from top to bottom. Tip the halves over and slice thinly.

Use a mandolin if you have one, otherwise a trusty knife, cutting board, and steady hand will do the trick just fine.

Add the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a small pot over medium heat. Cover and bring to a boil.

Once boiling, add your onions and swirl or stir together. Place the cover back on the pot and let boil for approx. 2 min., then remove from the heat and transfer the onions to a heatproof bowl or jar to cool.

Once at room temperature, enjoy as is, or transfer to an airtight glass or ceramic container and store in the fridge.

Quick Pickled Red Onions

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions:

Peel and slice off the top and root end of the onion. Thinly slice as is for rings. For half moons, stand it up on a flat end and halve it from top to bottom. Tip the halves over and slice thinly. Use a mandolin if you have one, otherwise a trusty knife, cutting board, and steady hand will do the trick just fine. Transfer to an airtight glass or ceramic container.

Add white wine vinegar, sugar, and salt to a bowl and whisk to combine. Keep whisking until the sugar and salt are dissolved—it might take a few minutes, but it will happen, just keep stirring.

Once sugar and salt are completely dissolved in the vinegar, pour the mixture over the onions. Cover and let sit for at least 1 hour before serving, or store in the fridge.

How to Add More Flavor to Homemade Pickled Red Onions

Pickled onions like the ones above will taste great as is, but there are other ways to add flavor and subtle nuance to your onion-y gems. Some might suggest using different types of sugar to switch up the flavor profile, but granulated sugar is, in my humble opinion, your best bet. However, you can easily change up the type of vinegar you use—even opting for combination—be they red wine, white wine, champagne, distilled white (the strongest), apple cider (my favorite), or balsamic (best combined with distilled white). 

In addition to playing around with vinegars, you can spice things up by adding a garlic clove, bay leaf, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, dried oregano, black peppercorns, a small dried (or thinly sliced fresh) chili, star anise, crushed red pepper flakes, or even a squeeze of lime juice. Add these ingredients to the simmering pot of vinegar in the “traditional” recipe, or tuck them in with the onions before drowning them in vinegar in the “quick” variation.

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