How to Cook Pearl Onions

Some people look at me funny when I tell them I like serving onions as a side dish. The honest truth is that they are amazing if cooked properly, like with these Balsamic Glazed Pearl Onions!

balsamic glazed onions in a white bowl


 

They are perfect for a holiday meal or random night of the week and can be easily made ahead.

Baby Onions Recipe

There are so many varieties of onion and they all carry a very distinct flavor profile with some being super onion-y and others more mild.

How you cook them also makes a big difference. Caramelized onions take on a sweet note while quickly sauteed will have a little more onion bite. Some dishes even rely heavily on the base flavors for all of the seasoning.

close up overhead of glazed baby onions

Furthermore, some are onions only, like this dish or my French Baked Onions (basically onions that taste just like French onion soup) or Creamed Onions, another family favorite.

What are Pearl Onions?

The pearl onion is a small white onion with many names, some depending on geographic location. Other names are button onions, baby onions, creamers and in French, oignon grelot.

spoon with balsamic pearl onions

Popular in soups and stews, these little onions have a milder flavor profile more reminiscent of a leek. When cooked they release their flavors and softens lightly so the outside is tender but the inside has a little tooth to it.

White Pearl onions are crunchy and mild with firm, juicy, and crisp flesh. Perfect for an onion-centric dish. This is a purely glazed pearl onion recipe.

Balsamic Pearl Onions Recipe Ingredients

Should I use Fresh or Frozen Pearl Onions?

I am generally all about fresh foods… unless we are talking about fresh pearl onions. I’ve bought fresh before to make Beef Bourguignon and let me tell you- they are a pain in the butt to peel!

Little cuts under my nails from the papery skin and it burned. Ugh. You can’t cut off the tops and bottoms like you would to peel a regular onion because then they just fall apart. What a mess. So for these glazed pearl onions, I use frozen.

So now I buy the frozen white pearl onions. Don’t diss frozen veggies! If frozen correctly, they actually retain nutrients really well. And here, they save you oodles of time. You can also use quartered white onions.

If you are using fresh, cut them at the stem end and the root end and then use a paring knife peel the outer layers.

balsamic onions served with roast chicken and bread

Pearl Onions Ingredients: The Balsamic Sauce

The sauce is a amped up balsamic reduction that edges between sweet and jammy with a little tang. Here is what you’ll need;

ingredients for making balsamic pearl onions
  • Unsalted Butter- Brands have different amounts of salt, so I nearly always go for unsalted so I can control the saltiness. If you do use a salted butter, simply omit the coarse Kosher salt in the recipe. Olive oil can be swapped, but butter is much richer.
  • Light brown sugar- Aids in the caramelization process. Dark brown can also be used. I love the molasses undertones and deep caramel colors it brings to the dish.
  • Balsamic Vinegar– Co-host to the baby onions, I strongly suggest not swapping this for other types of vinegar because they simply won’t caramelize the same. However, don’t grab the expensive, aged versions. We are adding enough other flavors that you don’t need to elevate there and spend the money.
  • Dijon mustard– Dijon is always my go-to, but feel free to use other flavors of mustard or even dry mustard powder.
  • Coarse kosher salt & ground black pepper– For seasoning.
  • Low Sodium Vegetable Broth- I use low sodium so I can control the salt. You might not need any of this ingredient it is simply to prevent the onions from totally drying out and burning while they simmer down and let the balsamic vinegar caramelize. Low sodium chicken broth and water can also be used.
  • Parsley– Just for garnish and color.

How to Cook Pearl Onions

  1. Use a large saute pan so there is as much surface space as possible. I love my cast iron! Melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat, then add the onions, stirring and cooking for 15 minutes so they start to soften. They will likely absorb much of the butter.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Set aside.
  3. Stir the brown sugar into the hot onions until fully coated, then add the vinegar mixture. Cover and reduce the heat. Cook for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the onions get too dry, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable broth. You may not need any the broth.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper.
step-by-step how to make balsamic pearl onions

What to Serve with Balsamic Pearl Onions

This is a great side dish for nearly any meal, but here are a few of my favorite dinner ideas.

Pearl Onion Recipe Storage

One of my favorite things is that glazed baby onions can be made up to 2 days in advance. Simply make the whole recipe and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve. Heat in the microwave or on the stovetop in a baking dish (preferred). Onions will stay good for up to a week in the fridge.

This recipe can also be frozen and thawed for a later occasion. I add a small amount more balsamic vinegar while cooking in a skillet or in the oven.

collage of balsamic glazed pearl onions

White Pearl Onions Recipe FAQs

Are baby onions the same as pearl onions?

Baby onions and pearl onions are similar but not necessarily the same. Baby onions can refer to any small-sized onion, while pearl onions specifically refer to a specific variety of small, round, white onions.

Are pearl onions the same as pickled onions?

No, pickled onions have been pickled in a brine, but the type of onion used to make pickled onions is typically a baby onion or pearl onion.

Are pearl onions the same as white onions?

Pearl onions are generally white, but white onions are much larger in size.

How to Peel Pearl Onions

We suggest using frozen pearl onions to avoid peeling them, but if you are making them with fresh onions, here is how to peel them.
To peel pearl onions, blanch them in boiling water for about 1-2 minutes, then transfer them to an ice bath. Afterward, you can easily peel the skins off by gently squeezing each onion between your thumb and forefinger.

More Delicious Holiday Side Dishes

Monday Holiday Side Dish Recipes:

overhead balsamic pearl onions
spoon with balsamic pearl onions

Balsamic White Pearl Onions Recipe

4.21 from 53 votes
These EASY Balsamic Glazed Pearl Onions are great for a simple side dish. Elegant enough for the holidays, but also for weeknight meals!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 6

Ingredients

Instructions

  • In a large skillet, melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, stirring and cooking for 15 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Set aside.
  • Stir in the brown sugar until fully coated. Stir in the vinegar mixture. Cover and reduce the heat. Cook for another 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the onions get too dry, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable broth. You may not need the whole amount of broth.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve hot.
  • If you’ve tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings!

Nutrition

Calories: 84 kcal, Carbohydrates: 12 g, Protein: 1 g, Fat: 4 g, Saturated Fat: 2 g, Cholesterol: 10 mg, Sodium: 219 mg, Potassium: 108 mg, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 8 g, Vitamin A: 117 IU, Vitamin C: 5 mg, Calcium: 21 mg, Iron: 1 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 84
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: pearl onion recipe
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and food lover behind Savory Experiments. She is obsessed with butter, salt and bacon and spends all her time in the kitchen and behind a camera. Jessica is a contributor to PopKitchen by Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal Food + Travel and more!

Read More About Jessica

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Recipe Rating




Questions and Reviews

  1. Can these be made ahead? Looking to add to my Christmas table, but would love to have them ready to go the night before!

  2. 5 stars
    I made this recipe to go with reverse-seared steaks for Thanksgiving, and they were such a hit! Definitely going on my “make again” list! Thank you.

  3. I have only put pearl onions in soups and stews and not as a side dish on their own. There’s some in the pantry. These are going on the menu to try!

  4. 5 stars
    I saw your recipe on pinterest and had to learn more. I’m glad to see you used frozen pearl onion because I don’t see them often fresh. Adding these to my menu this year. Thank you!

  5. When I first saw the title I thought fahgeddaboutit because those little buggers, though delicious, truly are a pain in the neck. Using frozen makes all the difference. I look forward to trying these.

  6. 5 stars
    I’ve never tried pearl onions before, but these sound delicious! We usually do a “cowboy” Thanksgiving with bison steaks instead of turkey, and these would go so well!