Welcome to the latest edition of Mixology Monday. I skipped a couple of months, busy with other stuff, but I had to return for this edition–it’s the fourth anniversary of MxMo! Having been a part of this online cocktail party from the very beginning, I feel I must participate tonight–it’s a moral imperative. (Of the original MxMo gangsters–the MxMafia, if you will–it’s fun to see who else was in it from the beginning: Paul Clarke, Rick Stutz, and Darcy O’Neil.)
Tonight’s theme promises to be a toot: pain-in-the-ass drinks, hosted by Seattle bartender Mike McSorley at the blog McSology. I’m cheating a little. I’m not doing a pain-in-the-ass drink. I’m doing a DIY garnish, the humble cocktail onion. Something I wanted to do at the restaurant bar was pickle onions for our cocktails, but life happened, and I’m doing it at home instead.
My wife, Jennifer, has played a lot with pickled things at home, but I had never tried it, so I thought this was the time. Jen and I bantied about a bunch of ideas as to how to pickle our onions, but in the end I chose to go with a basic template from the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Imbibe.
The first PITA was simply finding the mofo onions. Just over a week ago, when I first started thinking about this, our local grocery had fresh pearl onions. This week, none. (Yes, I could buy frozen, pre-peeled pearls, but where’s the PITA of that? Also, where’s the goddamn flavor of that?) So we simply bought the smallest onions we could find–larger than a pearl but still perfect at the bottom of a cocktail glass.
Next, PITA: peeling the mofo onions. Jen’s initial idea was that I should blanch them, so the skins would just slip right off, but then she saw a comment in Imbibe that overcooking the onions will take away their crunch. We decided to peel them the hard way.
My adaptation of Imbibe‘s recipe is as follows:
Pickled Cocktail Onions
- 12 ounces peeled onions
- 1/2 tsp. coriander seed
- 1/2 tsp. juniper berries (with these onions destined for a Gibson, that just made sense)
- 1/2 tsp. white peppercorns
- pinch of saffron
- zest of one medium lemon
- 1 quart vinegar (I used a mix of white-wine vinegar and simple white vinegar, as it’s what I had on hand)
- 3/4 quart water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
Assemble coriander seed, juniper berries, white peppercorns, saffron, and lemon zest into a cheesecloth sachet. Combine water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve, about five minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Add spice sachet and onions and return to heat. Bring to a boil; allow to boil for just one minute, and remove from heat. Cool to room temperature and remove onions and pickling liquid to jar(s), discarding sachet. Leave at room temperature overnight, and refrigerate (for up to two months) in the morning.
photograph © Jennifer Hess
Now, after doing all of that, I had some pickling liquid left over and didn’t want to waste it, so I also pickled some ramps. For that, prior to discarding the sachet, I cleaned the ramps, added them to the remaining pickling liquid (with the sachet in), and brought it to a boil. I then immediately turned off the heat.
Now, Imbibe‘s recipe comes from Todd Thrasher of PX in Virginia, and he seems to be going for a sweet-and-sour variety of pickle. Having tasted the results, we’re not crazy about it. Neither of us are fans of the sweet-and-sour pickle; we prefer the classic sour. What we do absolutely love about this technique, though, is the texture of the onions. Very crisp and crunchy.
Next time around, I want to lower the sugar content, increase the oomph-factor of the spices, and play with different vinegars or vinegar blends.