September is the month Hubby normally pickles his onions!
For the uninitiated pickled onions are small onions preserved in vinegar and spices and usually accompany: cheese; turkey or beef sandwiches; fish and chips etc. A strange combination, but trust me absolutely delicious!
In the UK it was so easy to just pop down to the local supermarket and buy pickling onions or shallots; several liters of malt vinegar; and a packet of pickling spices. Bingo! In Portugal this simple task becomes a real challenge spread over several weeks by which time you wonder is it really worth the effort!
Our first task is to find some malt vinegar however, in Portugal it’s like gold dust and when you do eventually find some, it’s VERY expensive. The other option is to use white wine vinegar (min 6% acidity) but personally I am not convinced the onions taste anywhere near as nice. But hey! Beggars can’t be choosers as they say, and we decide to buy some of each.
The mission to buy the small onions takes us several reconnaissance trips to the local Saturday farmers’ market. Frustrated, after several failed attempts to make ourselves understood at the various fruit and veg stalls, the penny finally drops with one of the old farmer boys and we discover the word for little onions is Cebolinhas. Success! We hand-pick a few kilos of onions from a large box under the counter. Mission accomplished. Over to Mr Piglet who is responsible for pickling!
– Small onions
– Malt vinegar or white wine vinegar
– Pickling spices (prepacked) or make your own. A good mix is peppercorns, mustard seeds, dried chillies, cloves, mace, or coriander seed.
– Table or sea salt.
The preparation time is relatively easy and quick, but the onions do need to be left overnight.
Prepare the onions
– Top and tail the onions and remove outer skins.
– Place in a bowl and sprinkle onions with table or sea salt, cover with a clean cloth and leave for 24hrs (the salt helps to draw the moisture out of the onions).
Sterilize the jars
I always have a good assortment of jars of various shapes and sizes available for pickles, jams and chutneys. However, Mr. Piglet moans incessantly as I am loath to throw any jars away and we now have our very own “jar mountain”!
– Wash jars and lids in soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Place jars in the oven and heat to 100C. When the oven reaches temperature, turn off after 5 minutes but leave jars in the oven to cool and dry completely. To sterilize the lids just pour boiling water over them and leave to dry, naturally.
Prepare the vinegar
(Allow 1 teaspoon of pickling spice to 1pint/568ml of vinegar)
If you like your onions hot and spicy bring the vinegar to the boil, add the pickling spice, simmer for 5 minutes, and then allow the vinegar to cool completely before use. Otherwise just add a small pinch of pickling spice to each jar when adding the vinegar
– Simply add the onions to the jars leaving a gap at the top. Cover the onions completely with cold vinegar.
– Cut a circle of cling film and place over the top of the jar before sealing with lid.
Label with date, and if you are experimenting with different types of vinegar or spices don’t forget to note this on the label!
Store in a cool dark place and leave for about a month before eating.