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DIY Cocktail Onions: The Step-By-Step Guide You Need

By: Shreya Goswami

Cocktail onions

If you are somebody who loves to eat and cook, then you know just how prominent a role onions play in our food. From caramelised gems in biryanis and roasted beauties at a feast to simple gravy bases in curries and soups, the uses for onions in all their glory are undeniable. But did you know that onions are also used in cocktails to elevate your drinking experience? Cocktail onions are basically tangy and flavourful additions that can add zing to your cocktails and mocktails if used right.  

The innovative tradition of using cocktail onions can be traced back to the United States in the early 20th century. Inspired by the idea of pickled onions, American bartenders started crafting cocktails like the Gibson with cocktail onions, which are basically a more enhanced version of pickled onions. And thus, a new ingredient that adds huge flavour and depth to cocktails entered the world of mixology, and is now used to elevate cocktails like the Martini or the Bloody Mary too! 

Now, if you like experimenting with cocktails or are looking for a new addition to your cocktail offerings for your next house party, then making up a batch of cocktail onions is a great idea. Interested? Well, here’s the ultimate guide you need to make your own cocktail onions with utter ease. 

Cocktail onions 1

Starting Out With What You Need 

Making cocktail onions for your delicious cocktails is quite easy, but you do need to pay attention to a few things. Firstly, you need to know which variety of onions to pick for the cocktail onions. Pearl onions—also known as sambar onions by people across India—are dainty, small and the perfect size to fit into all sorts of cocktail glasses. They are also milder in flavour and slightly sweeter than other onion varieties, which makes them the perfect choice for cocktail onions. So, get pearl onions. 

When it comes to the other ingredients you need, vinegar is a must. However, don’t just pick any ordinary vinegar and instead go for white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar to bolster another layer of flavours. Sugar and salt are a must in pickling liquids, but for cocktail onions, you can also add spices like peppercorns, mustard seeds or bay leaves for additional flavours. And of course, you need sterilised glass jars to assemble and steep the cocktail onions in.  

Cocktail onions 2

Making Cocktail Onions: A Step-by-Step Guide 

As mentioned before, making cocktail onions at home is the easiest thing in the world as long as you have all the right ingredients at hand. Once you do, here is the step-by-step process you need to follow.  

Step 1. Onion Preparation 

Wash the pearl onions, trim the roots and peel them carefully to ensure you don’t lose too many layers. Just trim the roots but don’t cop them off completely as the pearl onions might then lose their shape during the pickling process.  

Step 2. Sterilising Jars 

Ensure the glass jars and lids are sterilised before proceeding. Boil them in hot water for three minutes, drain them out and then allow them to air dry completely before using them. This will ensure that your cocktail onions are preserved and don’t spoil. 

Step 3. Make The Pickling Solution  

Place white wine vinegar in a large saucepan, then add equal parts of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then add sugar, salt and select whole spices like bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon, etc. Boil the mixture for a minute until the sugar and salt are dissolved, then switch off the flame and let the pickling solution cool down completely.  

Cocktail onions 3

Step 4. Pack The Pearl Onions 

Place the peeled and dried onions in the sterilised jar while making sure that only three-quarters of the jar is full. Add in any additional spices if you need them, then pour in the cooled pickling solution on the top. Leave a small gap between the top of the pickling solution and the jar lid to allow for the onions to expand. 

Step 5. Seal And Store 

Secure the glass jars with the sterilised lids while ensuring that there is no way any air can enter them. Store the cocktail onions in a cool, dark and dry place for at least a week so that the onions get enough time to pickle and gain an almost translucent appearance. Now, use them in your cocktails as and when you like.