Pickled Onions

By Ryan McKay

When searching for that elusive balance in a dish, I often find that I am craving some much-needed acid. Be it to cut through a rich meal to refresh my palate or as a final kick to complement that perfect bite, acid is often considered one of the pillars of cooking.

There are many ways to introduce acid into a dish–citrus, vinegar, wine, or buttermilk, to name a few. When first experimenting with acid, I often advise my fellow cooks to try pickling as a great first step. This speedy and nearly mistakeproof technique is a skill you will use forever.

For most, pickling brings images of cucumbers, pickling salt, and boiling glass containers. Though this does produce an excellent product, quick pickling is a tool that many professional chefs use and what I am focusing on. This allows for maximum punch in little time, often using the fruit or vegetable of your choice. Welcome to the wonderful world of acid.

A few after the fire critiques: I use onions here, but you can use carrots, jalapeños, peaches, jicama, or anything else you’d like. Also, don’t be limited by the flavoring components I listed below. Adding allspice, cinnamon sticks, cumin, or coriander seeds is not uncommon; have fun with it.




Red Onion (quartered and thinly sliced)

Jalapeño (deseeded, deveined, and minced)

Garlic (2 cloves minced)

Apple Cider Vinegar (½ cup)

Peppercorns (10-12 whole)

Sugar (2 Tbsp.)

Salt (1 Tbsp.)



Small Saucepan

Sealable Plastic Container



  1. Place all fuel and ½ cup water in the saucepan without the onions over medium-high heat on the stovetop.
  2. Bring to a boil, ensuring all the salt and sugar have dissolved; then immediately remove from the heat.
  3. Meanwhile, place all the onions in a plastic container and pour the pickling solution over them to cover.
  4. Let cool on the countertop, then place in the refrigerator for no less than 10 minutes.

Note that the longer it is pickled, the more intense the flavor and spiciness. These will last for a few weeks if covered. Enjoy!


Ryan McKay is a 13-year fire service veteran and a firehouse cook from Atlanta, Georgia. His goal is to bring the fast-paced lifestyle of the fire service with the slow-paced art of cultivating family and crew through the tool that is food. He has made an appearance on NBC’s primetime show “Food Fighters,” is a co-founder of the Metro Atlanta EMS Conference, and works intimately with the SafePath Child Advocacy Center.

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