Today we're looking at that what many consider to be the king of pickles, the humble pickled onion. Perfect with a ploughman's, fantastic with fish & chips and marvellous in a Martini!
Now the onion takes on many forms - brown, white, spanish, shallots, leeks, all with their own flavours. I find it very hard to find proper pickling onions, but recently, the small shallot bulbs have been readily available, so why not give them a go?
What you'll need to make about a 2 litre jar:
2L jar and lid
1kg of pickling onions or shallots
1x tbsp whole peppercorns
1 or 2 Hot chillies depending on how much of a heat freak you are
2x garlic cloves
2x rosemary sprigs
2x bay leaves
1x 750ml bottle of vinegar, either white, apple cider or malt (unless you're GF)
4x tbsp rock salt
2x tbsp caster sugar
First things first, lets get the brine on the go! You can use any type of vinegar, but our gluten free friends should stay away from malt vinegar. I really enjoy the taste of apple cider vinegar, but I've even made these with rice wine vinegar and coconut vinegar!
Pour your 750ml bottle of vinegar into a saucepan, then add 750ml of water.
Stir in the rock salt and caster sugar. Only use rock salt, never use table salt, as the iodine in it makes for mushy pickles.
Get it on medium heat, you want it to be over 75C, but below boiling point, you can do this by eye, but i find a small kitchen thermometer indispensable.
While the brine is warming, let's get onto the rest of the prep.
Sterilising your jars is easy if you have a dishwasher. Just put your jars and lids on the pot cycle, and once finished, they are ready to be hot filled. Otherwise you can fill and wash your bottles and lids with freshly boiled water just before filling.
Start by peeling your shallots, you'll notice each bulb consists of 2 or 3 smaller bulbs, separate these into individual pieces.
You want to make sure you don't have any dry skin, so don't be stingy, and peel back the layers till you get to glossy, firm flesh.
Next, slice your chillies into nice chunky pieces, if you're worried about the heat, you can de-seed them, or use some of the milder varieties available, we like heat so we ramp it up a little!
The next job is the garlic, and please, please, please avoid using the bleached white Chinese garlic, it's just plain nasty and full of chlorine, instead search out good old Aussie garlic, it's much easier to find these days, is strong in flavour and just the best. Mexican garlic makes a good alternative too.
Peel the garlic cloves, and keep them whole. My little trick is to use my lime juicer as a garlic squasher, i can crack a whole bunch very quickly, and then they just pop out of their papery shells nice and easy! You can also use the back of a large knife, pressing down to crack the husk.
Get your two lemons, cut one into nice round slices, and use the other one for its rind / zest. If you don't have a fancy ass zester, either cut fine slices off with a sharp knife, or use your cheese grater, just make sure you get the rind and not the white layer below.
Finally get your rosemary, bay leaves and peppercorns handy.
So by now, your brine has come up to temp, so it's time to load up your sterilised jar.
In the bottom of the jar, arrange 2 or 3 lemon slices, a good pinch of the zest, chillies, garlic and peppercorns.
Half fill your jar with shallots, then add your 2 rosemary sprigs, then top off with the rest of the shallots. On the very top of the jar, add the rest of your zest, the 2 bay leaves and another pinch of peppercorns.
Now carefully ladle in your hot brine mix so it's level with the top of the jar.
Tightly screw on your lid and leave at room temperature to cool over night. The cooling, along with the onions absorbing the brine means a vacuum should form in the jar. You should notice the lid has sucked in nice and tight, it's now ready for the fridge.
You'll want to leave it in the fridge for 1-2 weeks to allow the flavours to develop. If you're struggling to open the jar, get a teaspoon under the lid and lift to help break the vacuum seal.
Crack 'em open and enjoy with your favourite meats, cold cuts, cheeses, bloody mary's or just on their own!!!
You might get the pickling bug too….