Getting Zen with pearl onions

This past weekend, I had the occasion to use some pearl onions in a recipe. The recipe will be forthcoming, but not until later in the month. However, in preparation, let me offer some Inadvertent Gardener words of cooking wisdom.

Do not stand in your kitchen trying to individually peel your pearl onions. Just don’t do it. There are better ways, people.

I started by trying to individually peel each one. The first one was a pleasant enough experience. The second, the same. By the third, it was occurring to me that was spending an awfully long time picking at miniscule bits of onion skin. By the fifth, I was trying to convince myself that I just needed to get into a Zen mindset and just be with the experience. Perhaps the peeling of pearl onions is an exercise in great patience?

By the ninth, with six bazillion merciless onions to go, I was thinking about millions of women who lived before modern conveniences, and who served creamed pearl onions (which was not the recipe I was working on, but work with me here…) to large families, and how they must have either had so much time on their hands that they really didn’t mind this insufferable and endless peeling, or perhaps they just drank a lot.

It was too early for wine, though, so I hied myself to the Internet, where I discovered the secret: Boil water. Plunge the little buggers in said boiling water for two minutes. Drain them, and pour them into a bowl of ice water. After you’ve let them sit there until they’re cool enough to handle, drain them again, then get to work. One quick slice at the bulb end, a quick squeeze at the other end, and those little babies pop right out of their skins.

I saved so much time, I was tempted to go spend 20 minutes meditating. And I will never try to peel a pearl onion again without using this method, no matter how much time I have on my hands.

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10 Responses to “Getting Zen with pearl onions”


  1. 1 Dori January 17, 2007 at 8:05 am

    So that is how they are used, despite being more of a cook than a gardener I never knew that. thanks. :)

  2. 2 Lydia January 17, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    I don’t often recommend this, but after many gallons of tears caused by trying to peel these little things, I’ve become a great fan of frozen pearl onions. Peeled, perfect, easy to use, and no tears!

  3. 3 inadvertentgardener January 17, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    Dori, they’re great, but only once you figure out the secret. And they’re quite tasty!

    Lydia, I’m totally down with trying your suggestion. I thought about that, too, while I was working with the little guys…it seemed like that might be a fully workable solution to the problem.

  4. 4 Nicole January 18, 2007 at 4:22 am

    First of all, I’m not much of an onion eater so I doubt I’ll ever need to use this trick! But, my grandmother and I had a conversation at Thanksgiving about this same thing! She makes creamed pearl onions every Thanksgiving and only uses frozen because she said the one time she tried using fresh, it took so long to peel them all that she swore she would never do it again! I’m going to print out your blog post and send it to her (she doesn’t have a computer) :-)

    Also, thanks for the comment on my broccoli post…it had gotten caught up with my spam and I just recovered it this morning :-)

  5. 5 Jenny January 18, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Hi, Genie

    I’ve noticed that Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa on Foodtv) uses frozen pearl onions in her recipes. Given how particular is she about most things, if she thinks frozen is okay, it has to be.

    Talk to you soon.

  6. 6 Katie January 20, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Just like peaches and tomatoes…and chestnuts….seems to be an answer here. I remember peeling peaches the first time, without blanching them, for a pie. It least they didn’t make me cry.

  7. 7 inadvertentgardener January 21, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Jenny, if it’s good enough for the Contessa, then I’m definitely all over it! That’s good to know.

    Katie, you know, I’ve never done the blanching thing when peeling peaches…now that I’ve done it with the pearl onions, though, I’m definitely going to try that the next time I get peached up. So this method works with chestnuts, too?

  8. 8 Nell January 29, 2007 at 8:43 am

    I agree that frozen pearl onions are a godsend. I used to find them in my local Safeway, but they don’t carry them anymore and can no longer even special order them. Any ideas on where to buy frozen pearl onions???
    Thanks,
    Nell

  9. 9 inadvertentgardener February 4, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Nell, I don’t have any immediate ideas for sources, especially if your local chain doesn’t carry them. Do you have other grocery chains in your area? Maybe a specialty grocery like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or something like that? I know it’s annoying to make an extra stop for one item, but sometimes, when there’s a necessary ingredient, it’s a necessary evil.

    I’m guessing you could also order them online, but I bet, with a frozen product, the shipping would be outrageous!

  10. 10 AnthonyRC June 16, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Did you ever actually publish the pearl onion recipe? I couldn’t find one.


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