Quickly Pickle Pearl Onions For Last-Minute Savory Cocktails

Like a little black dress, the classic martini will never go out of style — but that doesn't mean you can't switch it up now and then. There are a plethora of common martini variations that any home bartender may want to know how to make, including a dry martini, a vodka martini, and a dirty martini. And without a doubt, the Gibson is among them.

It's a simple swap to make this version and it's all about the garnish: Simply replace the olive in a martini with a pickled cocktail onion or two. Apart from Gibsons, cocktail onions make a delicious garnish for Bloody Marys or other drinks with savory notes, too. And, since the umami, food-inspired cocktail garnish is having a moment right now, there's never been a better time to learn how to make your own pickled onions.

If you have fresh pearl onions, a few pantry staples, and just 10 minutes of effort, you can have your very own homemade pickled onions to offer guests for their drinks (or just to snack on, if that's your thing).

How to quick-pickle pearl onions

Before you can pickle the tiny onions, you'll need to prep them. Start by trimming the ends, then be prepared to boil them. After bringing a small pot of water to a boil, add the onions and let them cook. Some recommend boiling for just a minute or two, while others swear by upwards of eight minutes. Regardless of whether you prefer the onions softer or on the firmer side, keep an eye on them and use a fork to check if they've reached the desired texture.

Once ready, give them a rinse under cold water so that they're not too hot to touch, then drain and remove the outer peel. You may find it helpful to cut an X-shape into the base end of the onion before boiling as well, to more easily remove the skin once cooked.

Next, you'll need to brine the peeled onions. If you're not an experienced pickler, it would be wise to find a recipe you trust and use those proportions to ensure the onions pickle properly, but you do have a lot of freedom here — brining is your chance to flavor the onions however you like them.

An hour is all you need to properly brine

Regardless of what recipe you go with to brine pearl onions, there's one ingredient that each one will call for: vinegar. Red wine vinegar is a tasty choice that adds some complexity and sweetness, but you can also use white vinegar if you're looking to keep it simple. Some pickling recipes also call for sugar to bring out the natural sweetness of the onions, and many suggest for salt for taste and to function as a preservative. The brine is also where you'll add any desired seasonings or spices if you want to really knock the onions out of the park.

Once your brine is perfectly flavorful and ready to go, just combine it with your peeled, boiled onions, pop them in the fridge, and wait. Different recipes will recommend various resting times, but a good rule of thumb is that, the longer the onions sit in the brine, the more flavor they'll absorb. But if company's already on their way over, no worries. Try to give the onions at least a solid hour of brining time — just enough for your guests to enjoy a glass of wine before cocktail hour.