What is a pickled onion? And who has the best?

pickled onion

A dish most have probably tried with variants of it coming up in salads, fish and chip shops and even cocktails! Aside from being a great snack, what is a pickled onion?

As and Englishman this is a question I knew the answer to very young. This was because not only is this quite the quintessential British snack, but it was also something that my father even proudly made.

So, what is a pickled onion?

What is a picked onion? A picked onion is an onion that has been pickled. This is predominantly done with vinegar, but brine, as well as other ingredients such as soy sauce can also be used.

How long it takes and what ingredients are added is up to the maker, but particularly with spicy pickled onions many feel the longer it is pickled the better.

Ingredients that are often added to a vinegar made pickled onion into chili, salt water (brine), garlic and all manor of other options.

History of the British Pickled onion

As with all; things pickled the original invention of the pickled egg was in order to preserve the onion so that it could be eaten later on.

There are therefore records of pickled eggs going back centuries. Modern pickled eggs trace their roots through two sources, fish and chip shops and pubs. In fish and chip ships in the United Kingdom and beyond chips are eaten with vinegar, so the pickled onion, and also the pickled egg were sold alongside them.

To read about the correct way to eat fish and chips click here.

In British pubs the story was a little bit different. Back in the glory days pubs severed booze, potation chips/crisps and picked onions and eggs. Back in the day this was considered a meal, with them often being left for a long long time and being bloody spicy.

The pickled onion is also a firm part of another British favorite, the Ploughmans Lunch, as well as various other dishes, such as salads and the like. I also remember the pickled onion and cheese or pineapple combo in a stick being a form favorite at parties in the 80’s and 90’s.

Most houses in the UK will have at east a jar of pocked onions, particularly at Christmas with big brands like Branston leading the pack. All manor of variation and sizes of onions are used for this.

International pickled onions

Pickled onions are big anywhere that has real fish and chips, such as Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, while also having a place in the bars of the United States, as well as Canada.

Other cuisines that do the pickled onion thing are Mexico, particularly in the Yucatan, Switzerland, and well as Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

I have personally never seen this in Hong Kong and the wider region, but apparently it is done as a pre-dinner snack. This is now very much on my to do list.

Silverskin onions

Although I personally prefer a big old onion in malt vinegar perhaps the best known are small silver skin onions that are pickled in white vinegar.

These are sold throughout the world in small jars and again form an essential part of salads, as well as even cheese and other platters. In this form they are particularly popular in Mediterranean countries.

They can also be used in cocktails……

The Vodka Gibson

I first discovered the Vodka Gibson when I was bartending at Bacchus Wine Bar. Essentially this is a Vodka Martini, but with the olive replaced by a small picked onion. In fact not just small, but extra small with one particular variant being used in cocktail bars.

Thus the equivalent to a Dirty Martini would be a Dirty Gibson with vinegar being used instead of salty olive juice.

And the best pickled eggs in Cambodia?

The best pickle onions in Cambodia are made by me! Aside from that I have rarely seen them. With that being said though Box Office have the best fish and chips, as well as the best picked eggs (article to follow).

Therefore if you are hankering for a pickled onion go grab some vinegar, get some jars and go make it happen!