The Cottage Smallholder

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Easy and delicious spicy pickled onions recipe


Photo: Pickled onions

Photo: Pickled onions

Unless you already make pickled onions, let me share a secret. Pickled onions are ridiculously easy to make! They are great Christmas or anytime presents, especially if you use a decent quality vinegar. Poor old Danny’s acid tum can’t take malt vinegar so I always make a couple of jars for him every year using white wine vinegar or cider vinegar. I didn’t realise that I hadn’t posted my recipe until someone emailed me asking for one.

This chutney is based on Oded Schwartz’s method from his superb book Preserving. I’ve added my own Cottage Smallholder twist by changing the spices and leaving them in the jars – as they look pretty and continue to infuse over time. The great thing about Oded’s recipe is that it only takes a few weeks to mature so this can be made well into November and be still good to accompany all those Christmas goodies.

This year we were able to make ours with home grown shallots, bay leaves and chillies from our garden.  If you don’t like heat in your pickled onions just leave the chillies out. The only essential ingredients are the onions and the vinegar and the saline solution which will make the onions crisp.

This recipe makes enough to fill one 300g and one 400g jar. But the ingredients can be multiplied if you want to make a large batch.

Easy and delicious spicy pickled onions recipe

600g of shallots
650ml of white wine vinegar
2 cardamom pods – crushed (one for each jar)
2 allspice berries (one for each jar)
2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
2 teaspoons of mixed peppercorns
2 birds eye chillies split lengthwise – including seeds
2 bay leaves

Saline solution:
500ml of water
35g of salt

Peel the shallots and put them in the saline solution for 12-24 hours depending on size. Place a small plate over the onions to make sure that they are submerged in the solution and store in the fridge.

The next day. Rinse the onions well. Put the jars into the oven to sterilise them (I turn the heat to 160c/140c fan and when the temperature is reached I turn off the oven. The jars keep hot for quite a time).
Add the spices to a dry non reactive saucepan and gently fry to increase the aroma of the spices (don’t let them burn!). After a few minutes add the vinegar and boil for 5 minutes. Best to open the window during this process and keep well away from the saucepan as it reeks. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
Pack the shallots into the jars, adding the bay leaves, chillies and a little of the spices from the hot vinegar between the layers. Finally pour the vinegar into the jars, pushing the onions down so that they don’t float on the surface of the vinegar. I reserve a few big ones for the final layer. Seal immediately and store in a dry dark place for at least four weeks before opening.

  Leave a reply


  1. Helen Baldwin

    The pickled onion recipe looks fantastic! Love the idea of a chilli kick.

    I have a question: Do you pour the vinegar over the onions whilst it is still warm or do you allow it to cool fully?

  2. Dont throw the Vinegar away after you have finished your onions it’s lovely sprinkled on your fish and chips/fries. Makes a nice change from normal vinegar.

  3. Ian Pinfold

    I made loads of jars of pickled onions from your recipe, and several variations and levels of spiceyness, last winter.
    They all turned out great and I’m already getting requests for this year!
    The jars I was proudest of, my own shallots & garlic simply pickled with malt vinigar & pickling spice, were being saved for summer salads.
    All the jars were steralised in the same way and all stored after being filled, in the same cupboard in my garage.
    The jars of my own shallots & garlic have all turned bright green! Both the onions & liquid. Not in a ‘mouldy’ way but as if they have neen coloured in with a florescent marker pen!
    The jars of ‘bought’ onions & garlic which are stored with them are all fine.
    I cant tell you how disapointed we are!!
    Is this a known problem, as I cant find reference to it any where! Will the onions still be eatable and any idea how I can over come it this year?
    Many thanks for any help any one can offer!
    Great web site, please keep it up!

  4. Ruthdigs

    I’m interested in your comment on the salt solution keeping the onions crunchy. I haven’t made pickled onions yet but am planning to and defffo want ones that crunch! Thought I’d seen somewhere as well that it’s whether you use the vinegar hot or cold that can affect cunchiness? I may well be wrong though! Thanks for the recipe, sounds nice and simple for a novice! 😀

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Ruthdigs

      Yes you are right, if you leave the spiced vinegar to go cold before adding to the jars the onions will be extra crunchy.

  5. Hi,
    When I pickle beetroot,onions, shallots, I like to make up a ‘balsamic vinegar’to pickle. It is too good though as I can’t wait to eat the ‘pickled produce’.
    When you see how much is charged for pickles in balsamic vinegar, this may sway you to try it at home. The taste is fantastic!……
    I don’t use a specified recipie, I make it to our personal taste.
    Basically I use a bottle of white vinegar,add sugar to your taste, approx.1/3boiling water to vinegar,dissolve the sugar then add a good few ‘glugs’ of good balsamic vinegar, add any spices as required,I omit the spices as it’s my preference, it’s all down to personal taste,the vinegar mixture is dark,sweet,yet tangy,try it,you’ll love it.
    A couple of years ago I gave a lg jar of beetroot to a friend with this balsamic vinegar,my friend her 5yr old daughter polished the full jar off in one go!……Then used the vinegar soloution on chips!
    So, it can’t be that bad, give it a go,just make a small batch,you’ll be hooked…..
    Lv Odelle X

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Paula

    You eat pickled onions on the side with bread and cheese. I like them with a rich pate too. They are great with cold meat – particularly turkey. They are also good straight from the jar 😉

    If you add sugar- which is fine – add it incrementally. Say there are 2 cups of vinegar, add 1 cup of sugar and taste, add and taste.

    The pickled onions that you have seen that are in a brown vinegar are pickled in malt vinegar. This is very rough vinegar and would take about three months to mature. You could get the brown effect by using brown sugar (avoid dark muscavado as this would make the vinegar taste bitter).

    Hello Kooky Girl

    I’m thinking of making some more with banana shallotts from the supermarket!

    Hi Jean

    I fill up the jar nearly to the rim with vinegar so if they do float they gap is tiny.

    Heloo Hannah

    Thanks so much for leaving such a heartening comment. I think that you’ll like the duck legs – it’s a favourite with us.

    Gosh I wish that I had got the cooking bug at 22 – you are so lucky. I was 40 before I first caught it and it has stayed with me ever since – making my life so much richer!

  7. Hi there, just wanted to comment on what a wonderful site this is.

    I’m a 22 year old enthusiastic cook and have made a few of your recipes since discovering your site a couple of weeks back. Your slow cooked belly of pork was absolutely divine!

    Tomorrow I plan on making the duck legs in apricot sauce, I’ll let you know how they turn out!

    Thanks again 🙂



  8. Hi Fiona, I can’t wait to try your recipe, I love the look of pickled onions in their jars, and thanks for the tip of the big onions at the top, mine often float.

  9. Kooky Girl

    These look lovely ! I will definitely be trying them.

  10. I have a bunch of little onions and I think I’d like to try a jar, but I have two questions: what do you eat pickled onions with, and if you wanted them sweet, how much and what kind of sugar would you add?

    Okay- three questions: I’ve seen brown pickled onions- I guess they’re pub onions- how do they get them brown?

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