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Pickled Onions (English Pub Style)

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Practically a British institution, it’s hard to imagine life in Great Britain without pub style pickled onions!  Easy to make and irresistibly tasty, you’ll want to make a double batch while you’re at it!

pickled onions recipe english pub style authentic traditional malt vinegar

Right up there with fish & chips, mushy peas, pork pies and Yorkshire pudding, English Pickled Onions are practically a British institution.  Whether eaten as part of a traditional Ploughman’s lunch, sliced on mature cheddar cheese sandwiches, burgers and baked potatoes (even in mashed potatoes), finely chopped up in a tangy salad dressing, cream cheese dip, potato or pasta salad, as a relish for hot dogs, or eaten straight out of the jar – they’re as tasty as they are versatile.

Also a traditional pub classic, something you used to see walking into at British pub is a dark jar of these pickled onions sitting on the counter at the bar, a popular snack during cocktail hour.

pickled onions recipe british english traditional pub style authentic malt vinegar

What really sets English Pickled Onions apart from other pickled onions is the use of malt vinegar as the brine base.  Do not substitute with red wine vinegar, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar or any other vinegar.  If it’s British pub-style pickled onions you’re after, malt vinegar is an absolute, non-negotiable must.  And make sure it’s quality, real malt vinegar.  It gives the brine its characteristic brown color and the onions’ famous sweet, tangy, caramelized flavor.

english pubs

English pub-style pickled onions are very easy to make but they require some patience.  Where the patience comes in is peeling the small onions and then waiting for several weeks before eating them (a key to the best flavor).  But we can assure you that the peeling and waiting pays off in the end.

Completely immersed in 5% vinegar, pickled onions keep for several months in the fridge.  For those interested in canning them via the boiling water bath method for long-term storage I’ve provided those instructions, but know that there’s a significant tradeoff:  They will store longer, yes.  But they will also lose a lot of their “crunch”, which is a huge part of their enjoyability.  For the best results simply pack the onions in jars and pour the hot vinegar over them; the heat from the vinegar is usually sufficient to create a vacuum as it cools seal the lids (a seal adequate for a few weeks’ storage at room temp during the maturation period while the flavors are developing).  At the conclusion of the maturation period and once opened, store them in the fridge where they will keep for 3+ months.

If you ever tried these in the UK you’ll understand the love affair with pub-style English pickled onions.  And if you want to make an ex-pat really happy, make them a gift of these homemade pickled onions, a taste of home.  The store-bought ones in speciality British stores not only come with a hefty price tag, these homemade ones taste even better!

pickled onions recipe english pub style authentic traditional malt vinegar

Pickled Onions Recipe

Let’s get started!

To more easily peel the onions:  Trim the ends off of each onion and place them in a heat-proof bowl.  Pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a minute.

removing the peels

Then drain, rinse with cold water and remove the peels.

Place the peeled onions in a bowl, sprinkle with the salt and toss to distribute the salt.  Cover with a towel or loosely with plastic wrap and let them sit at room temp overnight.  Don’t let them sit longer than 14 hours or so or the amount of “crunch” will be compromised.  Rinse well and drain thoroughly.

removing the peels

To make the brine:  Place all remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved.

While the brine is simmering, pack the onions into sterilized mason/Kilner jars.  Pour the hot brine over the onions (I pour it through a sieve to collect the spices) and then distribute the spices among the jars. Stick a butter knife or other long object down into the jars to ensure there are no air bubbles.  Wipe the jar rims down with a clean, damp cloth.  Place the canning lids on the jars (or rubber rings if using) and screw/snap shut while hot to create a vacuum seal.  Let the onions cool and then place them somewhere at room temp to mature for at least 3-4 weeks before eating, preferably 6-8 weeks for best flavor.  Once opened store them in the fridge where they will keep for 3+ months.

making the brine

IF YOU’RE CANNING THE PICKLED ONIONS VIA BOILING WATER BATH:  Again, you’re going to lose much of the crunchiness of the onions.  But if you want to can these for long-term storage, pack the onions into sterilized mason jars and pour the hot vinegar over them, distributing the spices in each jar (it’s easiest if you pour the brine into a sieve to collect the spices, then distribute them). Stick a butter knife or other long object down into the jars to ensure there are no air bubbles.  Wipe the jar rims down with a clean, damp cloth.

canning the pickled onions

Place the lids on the jars and screw them on.  Process them in a boiling water bath canner.  For pint-sized jars in altitudes up to 1000 ft, process for 10 minutes (see chart below for higher altitudes).

Remove the jars from the canner and let them sit undisturbed for 24 hours.  Check to make sure the lids are airtight.  Then store them in a cool, dark place where they will keep for up to a year.  Once opened store them in the fridge where they will keep for 3+ months.

Table 1. Recommended process time for Pickled Pearl Onions in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 – 1,000 ft 1,001 – 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints 10 min 15 20

canning the pickled onions

Enjoy!

pickled onions recipe english pub style authentic traditional malt vinegar

For more delicious British pub classics, be sure to try our:

For more pickled goodies try our:

English Pickled Onions (Pub Style)

English Pickled Onions! As versatile as they are tasty (see blog post for ideas), you'll want to make a double batch because they're thoroughly delicious!
4.99 from 67 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine British
Servings 32 servings
Calories 28 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

Instructions
 

  • To more easily peel the onions:  Trim the ends off of each onion and place them in a heat-proof bowl.  Pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a minute.  Then drain, rinse with cold water and remove the peels. 
    Place the peeled onions in a bowl, sprinkle with the salt and toss to distribute the salt.  Cover with a towel or loosely with plastic wrap and let them sit at room temp overnight.  Don't let them sit longer than 14 hours or so or the amount of "crunch" will be compromised.  Rinse well and drain thoroughly.
  • To make the brine:  Place all remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved.  
  • While the brine is simmering, pack the onions into sterilized mason/Kilner jars (plan on using either 4 pint sized jars or 2 quart sized jars).  Pour the hot brine over the onions (I pour it through a sieve to collect the spices) and then distribute the spices among the jars.  Stick a butter knife or other long object down into the jars to ensure there are no air bubbles.  Wipe the jar rims down with a clean, damp cloth.  Place the canning lids on the jars (or rubber rings if using) and screw/snap shut while hot to create a vacuum seal.  Let the onions cool and then place them somewhere at room temp to mature for at least 3-4 weeks before eating, preferably 6-8 weeks for best flavor.  Once opened store them in the fridge where they will keep for 3+ months.
  • If canning the onions via boiling water bath for long-term storage (note: they will lost much of their crunchiness):  Pack the jars as described above and wipe the rims.  Stick a butter knife or other long object down into the jars to ensure there are no air bubbles.  Place the lids on the jars and screw them on.  Process them in a boiling water bath canner.  For pint-sized jars in altitudes up to 1000 ft, process for 10 minutes (see chart in blog post for higher altitudes).
    Remove the jars from the canner and let them sit undisturbed for 24 hours.  Check to make sure the lids are airtight.  Then store them in a cool, dark place where they will keep for up to a year.  Once opened store them in the fridge where they will keep for 3+ months.

Notes

For those interested in canning them via the water bath method for long-term storage, note that there's a significant tradeoff: They will store longer, yes.  But they will also lose a lot of their "crunch", which is a huge part of their enjoyability.  For the best results simply pack the onions in jars and pour the hot vinegar over them; the heat from the vinegar is usually sufficient to create a vacuum as it cools seal the lids (a seal adequate for a few weeks' storage at room temp during the maturation period while the flavors are developing).  At the conclusion of the maturation period and once opened, store them in the fridge where they will keep for 3+ months.

Nutrition

Serving: 1ounceCalories: 28kcalCarbohydrates: 5gSugar: 5g
Keyword Pickled Onions
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

kimberly killebrew the daring gourmet

Hi, I’m Kimberly Killebrew and welcome to Daring Gourmet where you'll find delicious originals, revitalized classics, and simply downright good eats from around the world! Originally from Germany, later raised in England, world-traveled, and now living in the U.S., from my globally-influenced kitchen I invite you to tour the world through your taste buds!

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Recipe Rating




4.99 from 67 votes (41 ratings without comment)

106 Comments

  1. I made this recipe today but instead of using 1 teaspoon of yellow mustard seed, I used 1/2 tsp of yellow mustard seed and 1/2 tsp of brown mustard seed. I also used 3 bay leaves instead of 2 to help them stay crispier. I tasted the brine and it was absolutely delicious! Will be using this recipe again!

  2. I left a previous life in the UK nearly 40 years ago, having become addicted to pub pickled onions. I finally arrived in Canada, with my Canadian wife, via Saudi Arabia, Oman, Turks and Caicos and Saba in the Carribean, having sampled ‘pub’ pickled onions in all those locations, some good, some, not so good. Since becoming a Canadian citizen I’ve continued to look, and even made some pickled onions for myself, again, some good, some not so good.
    I used this recipe for the first time, just over 6 weeks ago, could not wait and opened my first jar after 3 weeks, then found it hard to wait until just today to try at 6 weeks.
    The first taste of these pickled onions took my straight back 40 years!
    Thank You! I’m also finding that they still taste really good with dishes I never thought of adding them to all those years ago.
    They are the real ‘Brit pub pickled onion’ deal, and the only recipe I will use……. :-)
    I’m a retiree and only wish to enjoy many more jars myself, and to share with a few close friends… :-)

  3. Just starting on my first attempt to make these for 2 English friends. Had to order the malt vinegar and finding the small onions was tricky, still, here goes! I thought we would enjoy them for Christmas, but now realize it will be more like Easter! Nevermind, will hopefully be worth the wait! I’ll check back in….

  4. I pickled onions last week. I used a lot of recycled jars with screw type lids and some kilner jars. Some have not sealed. Are these still safe to keep and use. I have made about 10 jars. I would say that 3 of the recycled jars have not sealed.

    1. Hi Barbara, because of their high acidity level if these were just made last week I would personally still use them and keep them in the fridge. That’s not an “official” statement of safety, that’s just my personal opinion and you’ll have to make your own judgment.

  5. Hi there, if using the first sealing method, how long do they keep on the shelf before opening them where thereafter you redistribution for 3 months? I’m so nervous about this method and it’s longevity!

    1. Hi Corinne, that’s the method that Europeans have been using forever. For my own peace of mind I would probably move them to the fridge after 8 weeks, but that’s just me. For added peace of mind you can also follow the method of boiling the jars in a water canner or large pot (place a folded towel at the bottom to prevent the jars from making contact with the metal and shattering).

  6. Fantastic recipe thanks, to add some zing I added two whole chopped chillies to each jar just before pouring in the pickling spice. Then left them stored on the cupboard for 8 weeks – the results are spot on, a great crunch with a gentle after bite👍

  7. I made this recipe about 3 weeks ago and the jars are still sitting in my cupboard pickling. I just had a crazy thought today that I don’t remember if I rinsed the salt off of the onions before I put them in the jar. Any idea what will happen to them if I forgot?

  8. Could you tell me why the onions have to sit overnight with salt and then be rinsed? What exactly does this do for the taste? Thanks, looking forward to these so that I don’t have to buy the expensive imported from England pickled onions.

    1. Hi Kathryn, the purpose for that is the salt draws out excess water from the onions. That will prevent the pickling brine from becoming diluted, which will lower the pH level and potentially compromise your onions from safely storing long-term. The purpose for rinsing them is to prevent the onions from tasting too salty. Happy pickling! :)

  9. This is the real thing. English expat living in the US. Just opened up after 6 weeks storage and already made a big dent in my quart jar. Crunchy and crisp and all the flavor I remember from the Chip shops and Pubs that served them . Thank you, a great recipe and can’t wait to make more. I used more than just small onions all home grown and some quite large. All of them big and small are well pickled and tasty.

  10. Ok I am wondering if I can use white vinegar. My man is English and he keeps saying this is how they were when he was living there.: we actually just got back from there 2 days ago and I thought I’d try looking up a recipe for the white vinegar ones and keeping the crunch is a must he says lol.
    Think I could just swap out the malt for white? To be honest when I tried them I tasted zero sweetness also…
    I love the malt vinegar ones myself but he seems to enjoy the white vinegar ones.: anyways let me know that’s so much looking forward to making some

    1. Hi Katie, yes you can but of course it will greatly alter the flavor. There is no one standard way of making these and flavor comes down to personal preference. By all means try white vinegar and see if that is the flavor you’re after.