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.