The Sleeper Hit

October 20, 2008

My parents were here the weekend before last and we made a cozy fall feast on that Friday night: this herb-encrusted pork tenderloin (which, I’m happy to report, works really well in the oven, now that grill season is all but over), these mascarpone mashed potatoes, a big bowl of simply dressed greens and the glazed red pearl onions you see up there.

The onions were full of surprises. They were a pain in the neck to make, for one. I skimmed the recipe quickly before adding it to the menu and thought it sounded easy enough. Just blanch the onions and peel them. I can do that, right? Well, sure I can do that. But it wasn’t all that fun. It turned my fingers all prune-y, ruined a manicure and took a very long time. Luckily, I had good company (thanks, mom!) and a glass of wine. Otherwise, I might’ve scrapped the whole thing, figuring that this was just a ho-hum side dish that we could live with out.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

Which brings me to surprise number two: no, this is actually not a side-dish I can live without. Frankly, I’m shocked I’ve made it almost twenty-eight years (it’s nearly birthday month, so I think it’s fair to round up!) without it. I always knew something was missing and I have finally put my finger on it: it was these onions.

One simply should not live without them. They’ll send a comforting oniony aroma wafting through your house, mingling nicely with hints of apple and thyme. They’ll allow you to keep them on the back burner while you make the rest of dinner, cooking slowly in a gently bubbling, buttery liquid that the onions almost imperceptibly soak up until, all of the sudden, the liquid is gone and the onions have become soft, melty and glistening.

They’ll also give you pause as you eat your dinner. Because even after the enticing smells and the beautiful results, you might still think that these onions cannot be all that special. They’re just onions, after all, you’ll think. But, then you’ll spear one of the slippery little devils on the tines of your fork and lift it to your mouth and take your first bite. And your eyes will involuntarily close and you’ll probably give a little sigh. Because they’re velvety and bursting with flavor, the raw onion sharpness rounded off and softened into a mellow richness. Something, as I’ve said, that you can’t live without. And, while I’m being melodramatic, I’ll leave you with this: perish the thought of a Thanksgiving spread lacking these little autumnal nuggets. Do not, dear reader, let such tragedy befall you.

Glazed Red Pearl Onions

2 1/2 lb fresh red pearl onions
3/4 cup apple juice
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 (4-inch) sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Garnish: fresh thyme leaves for sprinkling

Blanch pearl onions in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling water 1 minute, then drain in a colander. When onions are cool enough to handle, peel.

Cook onions with remaining ingredients, uncovered, in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, shaking pan occasionally, until onions are tender and glazed and most of liquid is evaporated, about 45 minutes. Discard thyme.

16 Responses to “The Sleeper Hit”

  1. sue bette Says:

    Your dinner menu sounds delicious. Sounds like I am going to have to give these onions a try – I halve always kind of avoided pearl onions, I think I may have had too many canned varieties or bad martinis or both. Thanks for the encouragement!!

  2. eggsonsunday Says:

    Gorgeous! What a pretty and delicious fall side dish. I have a soft spot in my heart for foods with that deep amethyst-purple hue, too…. 🙂

  3. Dawn in CA Says:

    My husband adores pearl onions, so I picked up a bag a few weeks ago and tried to slow-cook them in the oven, working from memory off a recipe I’d seen some time ago. They were just “okay” – the sauce burned a bit so that took away from the otherwise yummy texture/flavor. Your version sounds much easier, and better! I’m with you on the peeling, though…

    p.s. – I made a version of your peanut butter brownies last night to take to a friend’s dinner party, and they were a HUGE hit. Had to substitute a brownie recipe from Hershey’s cocoa for the batter part, since I didn’t have the semi-sweet chocolate needed for your original recipe. But they still turned out awesome. Thanks!

  4. holler Says:

    I have copied this one down for Christmas. Thank you for the recipe, I can just about imagine how good they are! Now I just have to figure out what else to make.

  5. Cindy Ruth Says:

    Those onions look amazing. I imagine the apple flavor and thyme really put them over the top. I’ll be printing this recipe out. Thanks.

  6. jen Says:

    just bookmarked this to try very very soon. before the manicure.

  7. Monica h Says:

    I just left a comment and I don’t know where it went???

    This has nothing to do with your caramel-y onions, but I made your tomato, mozzarella, salami pasta salad and it was yum!!! I am making it again this weekend.

    Check it out:

  8. Olga Says:

    omg, we are so on the same wavelength: I just finished eating a dinner of pork tenderloin and roasted red onions!!!!

  9. maggie Says:

    I recently made the balsamic onions from Smitten Kitchen, and they were pretty fabulous. Too bad they take so long to peel…

  10. sue bette: I would much prefer a bad martini to a canned onion. Perhaps that’s just me?

    Amy: Yes! Add another to the delicious purple foods category.

    Dawn: SO easy—once the peeling is over, that is. And I’m thrilled you liked the brownies! Hard to go wrong with those.

    holler: I had Thanksgiving in mind, but, yes, Christmas too, by all means.

    Cindy Ruth: I hope you give them a try!

    jen: The worst part is that I had chosen a completely unforgiving deep plum color. It was destroyed by the end of the night. I’m happy to have imparted this warning. : )

    monica h: My spam filter has been over-zealous as of late. You were caught in there. Not sure why your second comment got through. Strange. But I’m so happy the salad worked out for you! Great photos!

    Olga: Lucky you!

    maggie: Those looked jaw-droppingly good.

  11. pea and pear Says:

    They are a delicious sight. Fortunately I already knew the delight in eating these little babies, but if I didn’t your photos would cause me to run to the kitchen immediately to fix that problem! Yummy!!!

  12. Cakespy Says:

    Holy yum!!! I have got to try these. Never tried it before, so I was excited to come across this!

  13. pea and pear: Thanks!

    Cakespy: Give them a try!

  14. Shaheen Says:

    Looks positively delicious. I love to add pearl onions to my roast chicken. I like the brilliant photography. 🙂

  15. Chispa Says:

    Can’t thank you enough for posting this. Made it for my Christmas Eve dinner tonight and it was a HUGE hit. It’s not as labor intensive as it seems once those onions are peeled and even that’s not a big chore. I doubled the recipe and there were NO leftovers. It was fabulous with Prime Rib.

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