In A Pickle


A phone call about the pickled onions in the Panucho recipe guided me back to an old post about my favorite recipe for pickled onions. It’s from the Zuni Cafe cookbook and holy bajeezus if these pickles aren’t delicious and good on just about everything. Seriously. Try them. You’ll see.


What is it about vinegar plus ingredients that make me such a happy
boy? Is it the complimentary tang of anything that’s cured in brine
brings? Is it that zippy puckerface that follows after chomping on a
pickled cucumber? Or have I just encountered temporary culinary fatigue
and needed something loud and strong to shock me out of my lull?

Perhaps it was D, all of the above.

me, there are just some things that cannot and should not be enjoyed
without their pickled counterpart. I refuse to enjoy paté and baguette
without cornichon. I frown if a burger doesn’t have pickles waiting for
me under its bun. A ploughman’s lunch isn’t a ploughman’s lunch without
Branston pickle. Pickles, in whatever form, provide that sharp tangy
balance that pairs beautifully with the smooth and savory. It’s that
last crash of a symbol in a symphony, that sparkling sour kick in a

One of my favorite things to do in the pickling department
is Zuni’s red onion pickles. If you’ve eaten there
and ordered a burger
you know what I’m talking about: those zesty,hot pink rings that adorn
the side of the burger, lending an intriguing spice flavor that lives
between their savory and salty notes. I always ask for extra, will
happily pick them off the plates of dining friends, and just about go
crazy for them.

Besides, anything that bright in color has to be loved.

red onion pickles are quite easy to make at home and don’t require the
weeks of resting in brine to achieve their flavor (although they do get
better with age.) The process must be done in steps and it may seem
elaborate, but it’s not. Skipping the steps gives you an onion that
isn’t quite as flavorful and not the same texture. You want them soft
but still crunchy, and the multiple cooking delivers just that.

from their unusual hot pink color, the onions really shine in recipes.
They’re easily identifiable on a burger and don’t get lost amidst sharp
cheese and smoky patties. They’re also equally delicious on sandwiches,
with grilled fare, and served with cheese. I love them on grilled
sausages, sort of a fancy hot dog, if you will. However you enjoy them,
they’re definitely worth the afternoon effort and bring a little Zuni
home with every bite.

Red Onion Pickles
  adapted from the Zuni Cookbook

notes: You’ll want to prepare these in a stainless steel pot and use
stainless steel tongs or a wooden spoon. Aluminum cookware can leave
the onions with an off color and deny you the gorgeous hot pink hue
that you want.

Ingredients for about 2 pints
1 lb firm red onions (about 2 medium onions, although you can add more and increase quantity)

for the brine:
3 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
a cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
a few whole cloves
a few allspice berries
a small dried chili
a star anise pod (Zuni recipe says it’s optional, I wouldn’t skip this part!)
2 bay leaves
a few whole black peppercorns

Combine the vinegar, sugar, and all the spices in the stainless steel
pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 3
minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand to allow the spices to infuse
the brine.

2. Peel the onions, trim the ends and slice 3/8 inch thick. Separate the slices into rings, discarding any skin and tough bits.

Uncover the brine and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately add
about 1/3 of the onion rings and stir them under. They will turn hot
pink almost instantly (YAY! says Matt.) As soon as the bring begins to
simmer around the edges, about 20 seconds, stir them under again and
slide the pot off the heat. Immediately remove the onions with a
slotted spoon, skimmer, or tongs and spread on a platter or cookie
sheet to cool completely. The onions will still be firm. Repeat with
the remaining onions, in two batches.

4. Once the onions have
cooled (you can stick them in the fridge to cool them quickly), repeat
the entire process, again in three batches, two more times, always
adding the onions to boiling brine, pulling them promptly as the brine
begins to simmer again, and cooling them completely after each bath.
After the third round of blanching, thoroughly chill the brine, then
add the pickled onions. This slightly tedious process saturates the
onions with the fragrant brine without really cooking them, a process
that leaves them crunchy. Zuni notes that without this process you’re
left with dull, regularly colored onion rings.

5. Place in jars,
cover and store refrigerated. The cookbook says they will keep
indefinitely, but I’ve never gone longer than 2 weeks before they’re
completely gone. Enjoy!


  1. says

    I’m still making just plain old quick refrigerator pickles, but obviously I need to jump on this pickling bandwagon, because I do love them so.

  2. says

    I’ve been lurking here for a while, and I haven’t made anything yet, but I can’t wait to do this. I was wondering though if it’s better to let them cool or if I could possibly do an ice bath. Are there advantages or disadvantages to one versus the other?

  3. says

    Never made pickled onions before, but they sound definitely something worth trying, especially now that bbq-season is on. They’d make a great accompaniment to grilled meat and sausages, wouldn’t they..

  4. says

    So pretty, I’m all for a bit of pink in food! It’s interesting to know that you have Branston pickle in the US – I had it in my head that Branston was mainly a British thing.

  5. says

    you lost me on this one……I have to be in the mood for regular onions….I’m not sure I can do “onion pickles”.

  6. says

    Oh man! I just made 3 pounds of regular cuke pickles. I think my wife is going to make me eat those up before I cook up a batch of these!

  7. Diane says

    I LOVE these, and no, mine don’t last more than 2 weeks either. In fact, come to think of it, 2 weeks shows remarkable restraint.

  8. says

    mmmmm; I am making these pickles soonest. Just found this site thanks to the lovely “Cook and Eat.” Your writing is delightful.

  9. says

    mmmmm; I am making these pickles soonest. Just found this site thanks to the lovely “Cook and Eat.” Your writing is delightful.

  10. says

    I love red onion pickles, though I normally make quick batches simply by leaving them in a ziploc bag with either some lime juice or some bitter orange juice. The first time I tried them was with cochinita pibil, slow-cooked, Mexican pork shoulder. I hate to say it, but the red onion pickles left more of an impression than the meat. Thanks for posting this recipe, it looks fantastic.

  11. ati says

    i made them a year ago after your first posting. Now all my friends keep asking for more

  12. says

    I made a batch with this brine on Sunday with some immature carrots and they’re fantastic. I did a batch without (accidentally) the sugar for some chard, but haven’t tried it yet. I’m going to have to pick up some onions and shallots to try at the farmer’s market tomorrow.

    Thanks for posting this!

  13. says

    Okay… just finished blanching my first batch — and the onions and brine are in the cooler, chilling-off before combining.

    I have one suggestion and a question:

    First, the suggestion: I would put the aromatics in a cheese cloth. They get in the way of fishing the onions out after blanching. After blanching is completed, and everything has had a chance to chill, I would divide the aromatics among the jars ( I did a double batch and it took three jars ).

    Second, the question: I experienced a fair amount of reduction during the blanching, and I’m worried that I might have less of a brine and more of a light syrup. Should I worry? If it proves problematic, any suggestions on when and how to thin the brine?

  14. says

    Okay… so they’ve marinated all night, and the brine isn’t syrup. Just a little darker than I would have hoped. I think that next time, I’ll let the vinegar come to a boil before adding the sugar to reduce the chance of caramelization occurring (which happened to me).

    Thanks again for the recipe.


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