One of the first things I had to do to make the new kitchen feel like my own was start a batch of pickles or three. Last month I saw a bag of tiny purple pearl onions and picked them up on a whim, and by the time I was at the checkout counter I had decided to make some cocktail onions.
Cocktail onions have a reputation as, well, an old man's accoutrement. But when it comes to cocktails, I may be a little bit of an old man. Scotch on the rocks, gimlets, and martinis (both gin, how could you even ask?) are my favorites. I might venture into old fashioneds, pimm's cups, fizzes, and negronis if I am feeling adventurous. If I'm feeling specifically like an old Italian man, I might drink slightly warm lambrusco out of a juice glass. So yeah, bitter, herbal, spicy, I'm all about it.
Traditional cocktail onions apparently are made with tumeric and paprika, but when I googled for recipes, I came up with this intriguing page. I wanted to make brine, rather than vinegar, pickles, but I started from this list of spices. After trimming and peeling what felt like a million onions, I ended up with two cups of onions (and about four cups of skin). I added three bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary, a piece of star anise, three small dried chilies, and a sprinkling of juniper berries, mustard seed, cardamom, ground nutmeg, and peppercorns. I was fresh out of vermouth, and I just plain forgot about the sugar, so I just covered the onions and spices with brine — the standard 3 Tbs sea salt per quart of water, per Katz. I weighted the onions down with a dish to keep them well under the brine, covered them with a lid to keep in the rather potent smell of the fermenting onions, and left them to their devices for the next three weeks.
And this weekend, finally, I canned them. I drained off the brine and strained it through some cheesecloth, then added some sugar to the brine to make up for my earlier forgetfulness. Then I processed like standard pickles: hot sterilized jars, boiling brine and a ten-minute boiling water bath. Next week: the cocktail!