Make Your Own: Cocktail Onions

gibson2I’m not a big fan of garnish.  I think far too often it’s like parsley on a breakfast platter and it’s just there for show.  In the food industry parsley is actually called “Pretty” as in, “Be sure to throw some pretty on that plate before it goes out.”  Further degrading the idea of garnish is that many of them are mass produced in a way that robs them of any value to either taste or texture.

For and example see my somewhat rant-y descriptions of maraschino cherries.

Having been experimenting with both vermouth and vinegar shrubs recently I had the idea that it might be worthwhile to create some of my own cocktail olives or onions and see what kind of results the process yields.

My final recipe is as follows:

8 oz pearl onions
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/8 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seed
6 whole peppercorns
1 Tbsp dried rosemary
1/2 cup dry vermouth

Start by peeling back the skins on the onions.  I used a quick cut at the top and bottom then just shucked the peel.  You might also be able to blanch them in a little boiling water to get the outer skill to loosen.

Once you have peeled onions ready take a small saucepan and combine the other ingredients (except vermouth) over a low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve fully.

Add the onions and bring to a quick boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool in the pan.  Once the result is cool add vermouth and stir.  Move to an air tight container and refrigerate.  Should be ready to eat in 1-2 hours and will keep for several weeks.

When I first attempted this I used a recipe that called for Chile flakes as part of the spice packet.  The finished product was quite a bit more spicy than I had intended and was virtually inedible.  I made several other mistakes, including using vodka and everclear in place of the vermouth.  From this I can make the following recommendations.

  1. Don’t spice them with anything you wouldn’t normally eat.  In my case I use chile flake sparingly if at all and would not want it in a cocktail ever.
  2. Vinegar and alcohol are going to extract flavors from the spices much more heavily than say water which will result in a much more powerful flavor.  Fresh spices are going to be more potent than dried (generally) and toasted will be more potent still.
  3. Small batches are best.  The above recipe is my cut down 1 jar version.  Unless you’re going through a lot of gibsons you really won’t need a full pounds worth before they start to turn.

Where do you use cocktail onions?

The most basic recipe is the Gibson.  A classic cocktail that has fallen sadly out of favor.  The drink itself is exactly the same as your basic martini.

2½ oz of gin or vodka
¾ oz dry vermouth

Shake over ice, strain into coupe glass.
Garnish with cocktail onions.

You might ask how many, the best advice I’ve ever heard on the subject is as follows:

“Always add between one and three, but remember three is a meal and even numbers are unlucky.  I’ll let you figure the rest out.”


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