Quick Pickled Onions in 10 minutes or less

There are just some thing we don’t cook enough and some arts that get lost over generation – the quick pickle is one of those things.  Quick pickled onions (and other vegetables) were once a staple of many kitchens and are an easy way to add flavour to a meal with minimal effort.

In the context of what I am writing about, a ‘quick pickle’ simply means something that is pickled and eaten at the same meal.  It is not preserved and can be prepared in micro quantities.  My Grandfather (“Pepe”) was a giant fan of slicing cucumbers and marinating them in white vinegar as he prepped a fish supper.  He would pull the slices from the vinegar with his fingers (one at a time) and individually salt them as he ate his fish.  This was extra special if cucumbers had just come from the garden.

We tend to lightly cook most of our quick pickles (a recipe will follow).

Quick Pickled Onions 1

Here’s some of the advantages:

  • It’s quick.
  • You don’t need jars.
  • You don’t need a recipe and don’t need to worry about the right amount of acid.
  • You can experiment.
  • You can make very small batches
  • You can achieve results you wouldn’t when pickling traditionally (we quick pickle spanish onions below – and we retain their color; traditional pickling and all of the cooking and water-bathing would typically result in color loss
  • You don’t need storage space
  • You get to eat more veggies (I wouldn’t normally eat all the onion below)
  • You can use more expensive ingredients as the batches are small enough to splurge economically (such as excellent wine vinegar).
  • You can use any type of vinegar – including homemade – without worrying about acidity.

A quick pickle is a chef’s secret at many restaurants.  Most gently cook an ingredient in a slight simmer of vinegar and other ingredients (our recipe follows after the pictures below):

Quick Pickled  Onions

Quick Pickled Onions 2

Quick Pickled Onions 4

Quick Pickled Onions 5


  1. Cut onions in even thickness.  We use a mandoline.
  2. Bring brine to a light simmer.  To pickle a half onion I generally toss things into a pan without measuring – for these we used: two-thirds a cup of wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sugar, half teaspoon of salt, half teaspoon of white pepper.  We don’t cover everything with brine but use enough that there’s still some left in the pan when you’re done.
  3. Add onions until slightly soft.  They will continue to wilt with the heat – we toss them in the brine for 30-60 seconds and place in a bowl.
  4. Eat hot or cold.

That’s it.

Any favourite fruit or veggies that you do this with?  Any other tips?  We love hearing your ideas and comments and discussions. 🙂

  1. Pickled red onions are SO good on fish tacos. I don’t even simmer, just dump rice wine vinegar over them for a few hours.
    My family would often serve cucumbers/onion quick pickle in summer also.

  2. When I was growing up I would spend summers on our family’s farm with my grandmother and aunt. We had quick pickles at nearly every meal when cucumbers were in season. Something so simple evokes such strong memories – I can almost smell them right now! I make them occasionally in the summer (I don’t cook mine either), but get away from tradition just a bit by throwing in a chile for a little kick.

    • most of the reason I cook, I realize now (I had to think about this) was to ensure the sugar and salt become incorporated into the vinegar. When I’m making a simple, straight vinegar pickle (which I do with cucumber), I typically don’t cook at all – in fact I often leave in fridge for crispness. 🙂 Had to think about my ‘built-in’ logic (or lack thereof). 🙂

  3. I keep a large jar of quick pickle running all summer long. A little of everything gets thrown into it and it’s always ready as a side, snack or garnish. In addition to cucumbers, onions, and sweet pepper rings, left over lightly steamed veg like broc, carrots, cauliflower, turnips, golden beets (not reds, they stain it all), green beans get thrown and stirred in there. Really, anything that can benefit from a pickle bath!

  4. I’ve never heard them referred to as ‘quick pickles,’ but this is very common in the South. I grew up in North Carolina, and we often had cucumbers with vinegar, salt, and a little sugar. The brine was never cooked–we always ate them cold. Blue Ribbon Barbecue in Newton, MA serves them as a side. I love the idea of other vegetables prepared this way. Thanks!

    • Susan, I love how same things have different names in different places – and how different things share names. L) Does the sugar and salt disolve into the vinegar completely (imagine it would if both were fine and refined)….would love to try a bit of homey now that I`m thinking about it… 🙂

  5. I go the red onion route too, deepening their color with red wine vinegar and tossing in a good pinch of cumin seeds. Piled atop turkey burgers? Lovely.

    • sounds awesome Jodi – love the idea of using red wine… funny that I dismissed it when making these tossing about 3 bottles aside and looking for white… love your idea!

  6. I actually have a little cookbook called Quick Pickles. The author has a restaurant, and a friend started making pickled vegetables which became their amuse bouche, and he was named the pickle chef (as opposed to the pastry chef). I made the house pickled veg recipe a few times – it was delicious. I’ve always wondered if eating TOO many pickled things is bad for you though.

    • really cool Alice,

      I`ve read that they are quite good ofr you – although I am curious if the studies I`ve read limit that to fermented pickles and not inegar infusions so to speak… I see a research project coming 🙂

      • Joel, you might find that it’s the fermenting that adds to the gut bacteria vs the vinegar infusion which could, for people w chronic conditions actually be rather counter productive. Go look up Summer Brock – you’ll find some good stuff re this on her sight. I love your page for stimulation of food idea’s. Thank you!! :):)

  7. I was recently on holiday in Vietnam and fell in love with their pickled daikon radish and carrot mix. It’s very easy to make as a quick pickle, but if you keep it around for a while, the radish gives off a really stinky odor.

    • sound sdevine and while I`ve had the comercial stuff, never had the pleasure of trying it or making it at home. Trisha I think you`ve added a `to-do`to my list 🙂

  8. I grew up eating “instant pickles”. Mum would take a can of beets, drain off about half the liquid, and add vinegar and sugar to taste, and let them sit in the fridge while she cooked the rest of dinner. She’d add sugar, water and sugar to a bowl of sliced cucumbers, too – a real summer treat, as you said, when the cukes come straight from the garden. I make these things myself, now, sometimes just because I want something a little different from the usual vegetables, sometimes because I’m out of pickles, and sometimes, just for nostalgia’s sake. Thanks for reminding people that pickling doesn’t always mean a big production, and jars upon jars of pickles.

    • Carol,

      thanks for kind words. I love how eloquently you reminded me of eating for sake of nostalgia… there`s little that tastes as good as memory 🙂