Thanks to their zesty flavor, vibrant color, and remarkable versatility, pickled red onions have become a staple in our house in recent years. They are easy to prepare, too, and can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks, qualities that make them an undisputed favorite of ours when it comes to garnishes and condiments. Check out all the ways we’ve discovered to use them below and try whipping up a batch yourself.
- Red onion: When shopping for red onions, look for ones that are vibrant purple-red and have smooth skin that’s free of cracks. It should also feel heavy for its size and be free from signs of mold, soft spots, or green sprouts. Store onions in a dry, well-ventilated, dark place (don’t combine them with potatoes).
- Vinegar: We use a combination of rice and red wine vinegar for our pickled red onion recipe – rice vinegar for its mild flavor and lower acidity, and red wine vinegar to enhance color. This combination is flexible though. You could use apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or distilled white vinegar in place of the rice vinegar, depending on what you have on hand. They all have a higher acidity level, however, so you may want to replace a little of the vinegar (2 to 3 tablespoons) with water.
- Sugar: Granulated white sugar is the best choice for making quick pickled onions as it dissolves quickly and adds clean, neutral sweetness without the notes of molasses or caramel that brown sugar could impart. You can substitute granulated cane sugar if you prefer something less processed.
- Garlic: Two cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed with the side of a knife, add a hint of garlic flavor to the onions. You can opt to remove them before transferring the onions to a jar if you like.
- Peppercorns: A few whole peppercorns add a delicate spiciness to the pickling liquid along with visual appeal. The flavor is quite subtle though, so if you want to omit them, feel free.
How to Make Pickled Red Onions
Here’s an overview of how to make this dish. The ingredient list, quantities, step-by-step instructions, and notes are in the recipe’s printable version below.
Prep the onion: Trim the ends from the onion, halve lengthwise, remove the skin, and slice thinly (about 1/8 inch). Separate the slices and set aside.
Make the pickling brine: Add the rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, and salt to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Pickling and storing: Add the onions, stir until they’re submerged in the liquid, and continue cooking just long enough for them to soften (1 to 2 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and let stand until cooled, stirring occasionally. Once the onions have cooled, transfer the onions to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, pour the pickling liquid over them, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled before serving. Refrigerated and stored in their pickling liquid, the onions will keep for up to 2 weeks.
Delicious Ways to Use Pickled Red Onions
The crisp acidity, sweet and tangy flavor, and beautiful color of pickled red onions make them a welcome addition to all sorts of dishes. Here are some delicious ways to use them.
- Mexican-style dishes: Top off tacos and nachos with pickled red onions or serve them with chips and queso or guacamole.
- Burgers and sandwiches: Pickled red onions make a delightful alternative to conventional pickles on sandwiches.
- Hot dogs and sausages: Try pickled red onions in place of relish or sauerkraut on hot dogs, and serve as a condiment with sausages like bratwurst and kielbasa.
- Pulled pork or chicken: Use pickled red onions in place of a classic slaw on a pulled pork or chicken sandwich.
- Barbecued chicken: Pickled red onions are a nice condiment to serve with barbecued chicken as they pair well with the smoky flavors of most barbecue sauces.
- Grilled steak: Try serving pickled red onions in place of grilled onions with your favorite steak. Tip: They complement chimichurri sauce well, too.
- Bagels and lox (or smoked salmon): Toast a bagel, spread on some cream cheese, add lox or smoked salmon, a few very thin slices of cucumber, and a topping of pickled red onions.
- Turkey sandwich: Try deli turkey on toasted whole-grain bread with mayo, slices of avocado, pickled red onions, and thin-sliced cheddar cheese.
- Charcuterie boards: A dish of pickled red onions makes a great addition to an assortment of cured meats and cheeses, and their acidity cuts through some of the richness, too.
- Salads: Try tossing a forkful of pickled red onions into a green salad and use a little bit of the pickling liquid to make a vinaigrette.
Pickled Red Onions
- 1 large red onion, 12 to 14 ounce
- 3/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 8 black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Trim the ends from the onion, halve lengthwise, remove the skin, and slice thinly (about 1/8-inch). Separate the slices and set aside.
- Add the rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, and salt to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the onions, stir until they're submerged in the liquid, and continue cooking just long enough for them to soften (1 to 2 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and let stand until cooled, stirring occasionally.
- Once the onions have cooled, transfer the onions to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, pour the pickling liquid over them, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled before serving.
- Refrigerated and stored in their pickling liquid, onions will keep for up to 2 weeks.