Do smelly foods control what you eat or where you eat them? Maybe they should, but they never stopped me. A recent conversation with a friend playing the dating game explored what foods she eats on dates or, more importantly, what foods she doesn’t eat. Chef herself, I was shocked to hear that she stays away from garlic and onions on a first date. I guess I’ve always had the attitude that we can figure this out now rather than later. Surprise Surprise! I married a man who loves onions and garlic as much as I do.
My grandmother always kept a bag of chopped onions in her freezer along with a bag of frozen pearl onions. I’m not sure if she saved the pearls for special occasions, but I always felt like she did. Something about the single pearl made it much more decadent and delicious.
Later in my culinary career, I took this simple step and started using these delicious little treats in my most sophisticated dishes. I could have used minced onion, but something about those sweet little pearls still said a lot and literally upped the dish. Customers young and old adored the humble gourmet touch.
About the size of a log, pearl onions are sold loose, in mesh bags or frozen. Soft and sweet, they are delicious eaten whole, roasted, marinated, glazed or braised. While nothing beats the fresh, I usually buy these baby onions from the frozen section. I don’t have time to go through them and am more than happy to skip a tedious step. There are a few times that I recommend frozen over fresh, but this is definitely one of those times. Especially during the peak holiday season.
Today, I’ve included a few of my favorite pearl onion recipes. Creamy pearl onion sauce is one of my absolute favorite recipes. I come back to it again and again. It’s creamy and crunchy, not to mention a bit non-traditional on my party table.
Pearls, potatoes, peas and ham are a variation of one of my grandmother’s gold standards. It feels right at home in a bowl and it’s an easy way to use up holiday leftovers.
The balsamic, thyme and onion sauce is so simple and tasty. It enhances basic meat dishes but is sensational over mashed potatoes or carrots. Thyme gives it a punch that tastes like the holidays.
All of these recipes are simple, require minimal ingredients, and my favorite ingredient, minimal time. You can even prepare them in advance.
Good luck and enjoy it!
Pearl onion cream sauce
2 packages frozen pearl onions, about 14-15 ounces each
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, to have on hand to use as needed.
¼ tsp kosher salt, have on hand to add as much as you prefer.
6 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tablespoons of flour
3 cups of milk
¾ cup chopped fresh parsley, have extra on hand for garnish.
cup of dry sherry
tsp of paprika
tsp ground cloves
tsp ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons of panko breadcrumbs, others will do, but panko are very crispy.
Partially thaw onions, about ten minutes. Cut the onions into thin rings, cutting them crosswise into rings. Place in a colander and let the onion slices thaw completely.
Drain and spread on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Pat dry with paper towels.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and ¼ tsp. of salt. Stir frequently and cook until the liquid evaporates and the onions are lightly browned and slightly crispy.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth. Cook until light golden brown, about 30 seconds.
Gradually incorporate the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, whisking frequently, until the sauce begins to bubble, thickens and is smooth. It should take about eight minutes.
Add the parsley, sherry, paprika, cloves and cooked onions. Season to taste with S&P.
Transfer to three buttered 2-cup broilers or a buttered 2-quart baking dish.
At this point, the onions can be prepared and refrigerated, covered (three days in advance). If you eat soon after cooking, bake uncovered in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, then stir.
Preheat the grill too high. Sprinkle the panko evenly over the onion mixture. Grill five inches from heat or until panko is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Watch carefully as it will burn quickly. Garnish with parsley and serve hot.
Pearls, Potatoes, Peas & Ham
For 4 people
1 pound of leftover ham with bone and a little fat or 1 pound of country ham
Salt to taste
12 new potatoes, golf ball size is best
12 pearl onions, peeled and trimmed
1 pound of green peas
¼ cup half and half
Fresh ground black pepper
Separate as much meat as possible from fat and bones. Reserve the meat for later and place the rest in a large pot, Dutch oven or slow cooker. Add water to cover all ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to low and even heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
When the broth is ready, remove the pot from the heat and pour the solid matter into a colander and place it on the pot. Gently press and return the juices to the pot, then discard the solids. Taste the broth and add salt if needed. (Hams vary in their salinity, so the broth will too.)
Add the potatoes and onions to the broth. Return it to medium heat and simmer over high heat for 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes coalesce. Add the peas and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
While the peas are cooking, break the reserved meat into bite-sized pieces. When the peas are tender, add the meat to the ot. Very slowly add half and half to the pot, stir well, then heat until the liquid boils. Boil for a minute, until the broth thickens to a consistency of light sauce, then remove from the heat. Finish with salt to taste and a few black peppercorns.
Balsamic onion and thyme sauce
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan over medium heat. Add 1 cup chopped red onions or pearl onions (whole or sliced), 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt. Sauté for four minutes.
Stir in a cup of reduced sodium chicken broth and three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil. Cook for seven minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently and adding additional broth as needed for desired consistency. Stir in 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh thyme and serve. Delicious with meat and vegetables.
The recipe and photos used in today’s article are from Chef Babz’s kitchen ([email protected]) with a little help from Food By Ronni Lundy, 2016.