As much as I love a delicately twisted lemon peel, or light up ice cube, hands down my favorite cocktail garnish is a cocktail onion. That combination of sweet onion, still crunchy, in a spiced vinegar brine hits all the right notes for me. So, today we’ll compare my homemade recipe versus store bought for this month’s Make or Buy post!
Now, there are not as many cocktail recipes that call for a cocktail onion for a garnish as opposed to, let’s say, an orange peel. But this doesn’t mean it should be relegated to an afterthought in Sunday’s bottomless Bloody Mary brunch. The austere Martini gets transformed into the cheerful Gibson by simply removing the olives (or lemon twist), and adding a cocktail onion. A Spanish-style gin and tonic gets a briny boost from the addition of a cocktail onion or two. And if you’re making the Indian Fresh Lime Soda Sweet and Salty (see my spiked version here), then you want to garnish with both a cherry and an onion. I also like them in a Spicy Tomato Water Martini too.
Your grocery store probably carries a perfectly fine version of cocktail onions (and if not, there’s always Amazon). I’ve also learned that there are a lot of regional varieties that stores carry, and there’s many farmer’s markets out there with people selling their own version of these pickled vegetables. Because there’s SO much variety out there with this product, I tried to find one that a. I like and b. that is not too hard to come by.
- I really like the Collins brand cocktail onion because it has a nice balance of brine: not too salty, not too vinegary
- The onions stay intact and have a nice crunch
- Easy to purchase online
- Ready made
- Mild taste
- small in size
- not as fresh tasting as homemade
To Make: Homemade Spiced Cocktail Onions
- Can alter the spices/flavor to suite your taste
- Batch as needed
- An easy, entry level DIY project
- Time: It will take at least 3 days before these are ready to use
- Flavor can be inconsistent from batch to batch
- You have to actually make the recipe
And how do they compare in a cocktail? To taste them in a drink naturally I turned to the Gibson cocktail. The store bought cocktail onions left a strong vinegar punch to the Gibson with an onion aftertaste. The homemade cocktail onions had more layers of flavor from the spices in the drink with a subtle finish of the onions. Both great depending on your mood. So, regardless of which path you choose here, you’re going to end up with a solid Gibson.
Homemade Cocktail Onions
1/2 pound cocktail onions
1/4 cup each Apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, and water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 tsp each brown and yellow mustard seeds, coriander seeds
2 tsp sugar
5 allspice berries
Combine all ingredients except onions in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Add cocktail onions in and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let reach room temperature. Pour everything into a ball jar and seal. Refrigerate for at least 3 days and up to two weeks. Onion flavor will mellow as it sits. Use within one month for best flavor.