The Easiest Way to Peel Pearl Onions Is Also the Fastest
If the word “onion” doesn’t automatically make you think “sweet” and “delicious,” perhaps you haven’t yet eaten a pearl onion. Pearl onions are named for their diminutive size — they’re typically about 1/2-inch in diameter and delicately globe-shaped. Unlike white cooking onions or pungent red onions, pearl onions have a high concentration of sugars that makes them taste sweet (not as sweet as a candy bar, but we are still talking about onions here). Pearl onions are great in soups and stews and their high concentration of sugars help them caramelize nicely when glazed in a pan.
But before you cook pearl onions, you have to peel them. Like all cooking onions, pearl onions have a layer of papery skin around their exterior. This outer paper can be a little tricky to remove, and the process of dealing with lots of little onions can be time-consuming. But once you learn the right way to peel pearl onions (Psst: It’s also the easiest), you’ll be adding them to your grocery cart all the time. The first thing you’ll need? A large pot of hot water!
Do you need to peel pearl onions?
Yes, you do have to peel pearl onions before cooking or eating them. The outer skin of a pearl onion is a protective layer that helps keep it fresh in storage — just like a regular cooking onion. You should not eat the skin from any onion. However, after you peel your pearl onions, you can save the skins for making stock, or you can simply compost them.
Is it hard to peel pearl onions?
Peeling pearl onions is not hard — but it does take a little more work than peeling full-size onions. There are two reasons for this. The first is because the skin on pearl onions is more securely attached. Unlike yellow, white, or red onion skin that just slips right off, a pearl onion’s skin twists into a taper at one end.
The second reason it takes longer to peel pearl onions is because they are smaller than other onions. Typically, when you peel pearl onions, you’ll do this chore in a larger batch (just peeling one or two wouldn’t give you much to eat). More onions = more work. But luckily, more onions also means more delicious side dishes.
How to Peel Pearl Onions
How long does it take to peel pearl onions? By following these steps, you can peel an eight- to 12-ounce bag in less than half an hour. Make sure you have all of the equipment ready to go to make the process even easier.
1. Gather your equipment.
You’ll need a few kitchen tools for peeling pearl onions; more than you’d use for peeling regular onions. Before you begin, you’ll need the following: a saucepan or stock pot for boiling water, a large bowl (to fill with ice water), a cutting board, and a paring knife. A mesh strainer or colander can be helpful, but they’re not crucial for this task.
2. Blanch the onions in boiling water.
The first step of peeling pearl onions is blanching them. Blanching is the act of boiling an ingredient for a very brief amount of time — no more than a couple of minutes. This will loosen the onions’ skin, but won’t fully cook them.
To blanch pearl onions, bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. Add all of the onions, skin and all. Keep at a lively boil for 2 minutes. There’s no need to salt the water, because you’re not cooking the onions. Remember, this is just the first step in peeling pearl onions. It’s helpful to set a timer for the exact time, in case you get distracted. Once your timer has sounded, drain the onions in a colander or a large mesh sieve.
3. Shock the onions in a cold water bath.
The second step of peeling pearl onions is shocking them in cold water. This step is crucial to stop the cooking process. It also cools the onions quickly, making them safe to handle (no need to wait minutes for them to cool before peeling).
To make a cold water bath, add a couple handfuls of ice cubes to a large bowl of cold water. You can prepare this while the onions are boiling so it’s ready to go. After draining the onions, transfer them to the cold water bath and let them sit for two to five minutes so they can chill out. Here’s a helpful hint for easier shocking: Strain the onions into a handled mesh sieve, and add that directly to the bowl of ice water. When you’re ready to remove the onions, all you have to do is lift the sieve from the water. (You may have to pick out an ice cube or two.)
4: Slice off the root end.
The third step of peeling pearl onions is to slice off the root with a paring knife. All pearl onions have a root end and a stem end. The stem will be covered in onion paper, and may look long and twisty. Leave that intact for now.
Place the colander or sieve of blanched and shocked pearl onions on a paper towel or kitchen towel to collect any remaining water. Remove one onion and place it on its side on a cutting board. Use a paring knife to slice off the root end, as close to the root as possible. You can now move onto the last step.
5. Squeeze the stem and pop the onions out of their paper.
The fourth and final step of peeling pearl onions is the most fun (and satisfying!). Once you’ve cut off the root, hold the onion by the other end. Pinch and squeeze the stem, pushing the onion out of the other side.
The onion will pop out of the opening created by the sliced root. Ta-da! You have now successfully peeled a pearl onion. Repeat steps four and five with the remaining pearl onions, then compost or discard the roots and paper.
Can you peel pearl onions without boiling?
Do you have to blanch and shock pearl onions before peeling? Technically, no … but it’s a lot trickier. To peel pearl onions without blanching first, you can move right onto step four. However, the onion paper won’t slide off so easily (it’s the boiling process that loosens it from the onion flesh). To remedy this situation, you could slice off both ends of the onion — root and stem — and work to peel away the paper.
The drawback of this method is that it typically takes more time than blanching and shocking, because the paper is so stubborn! It also means that the onions may fall apart when cooking. If you want to ensure that the onions hold their shape in your side dish, soup, or stew, follow steps one through five, from blanching to popping out of the paper.
Recipes with Pearl Onions
Once you’ve peeled your pearl onions, use them in these tasty dishes.
This is the easiest and fastest way to peel pearl onions.
- 1 10-ounce package
Colander or mesh sieve
Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil on the stovetop. Add all of the pearl onions and keep at a boil for 2 minutes.
Strain the onions directly into a colander or mesh sieve.
Transfer the blanched onions to a large ice water bath and let sit for 2 to 5 minutes.
Strain the onions, removing any ice cubes and shaking off excess water.
Place a pearl onion on its side on a cutting board. Hold the onion steady by its stem side and slice off the root end, as close to the root as possible.
Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the stem and push the onion out through the opening created by the root end. The onion will pop out. Discard the root and paper, and repeat with the remaining onions.