creamed onions with bacon and chives

Could anything be simpler than creamed onions? I mean, it’s cream, and then it is onions. And you cook them together. The end. Or perhaps the beginning of another piece of evidence that I can take the simplest thing and make it, er, long-winded. First, I involved Thomas Keller, or rather, he beckoned me. I was getting a pedicure a couple weekends ago (figuring I’d put my family and also those other moms at the gym class I took the baby to out of their misery) and on the armrest was that week’s New York Magazine, boasting Thanksgiving recipes from some great New York chefs within. Obviously, I turned there first and though, again, creamed onions are really just cream and onions therefore not inherently interesting, the recipe was from Thomas Keller and he is a master of taking the seemingly simple and making it amazing. I was in.

tiny onions

Next up, finding pearl onions. Look, I did not go to every stand in Union Square on every day that the Greenmarket was open, but I looked once or twice and didn’t find them. I finally ordered them from Fresh Direct, cringing anticipating that they’d be shipped from Timbuktu or someplace halfway around the globe, only to learn that they’d been grown in New Jersey. Just like me! Win.

browning up the bacon

Then I got to peeling them because I wanted to make them for a pot-luck where my friends planned to “practice” some of their Thanksgiving dishes. And I peeled them. And I peeled them. And then I started wondering why I hadn’t bought frozen peeled onions, which even Ina Garten approves of. And then I remembered that I never see them in stores. And then I put down the paring knife and made some phonecalls, Smitten Kitchen, Service Journalism-style. Bird’s Eye informed me that they sell frozen pearl onions in 9-ounce boxes. Cascadian Farms told me that they only sell frozen pearl onions and peas together in a mix, but agreed that since they obviously have possession of frozen and peeled pearl onions that they should consider selling them pea-free. Green Giant does not sell them frozen, but one of their brands, Le Seuer sells them blanched and canned. I’m not sure I’d go with canned, however, but that’s just because I’ve never tried them. [Updated to add: Trader Joes sells these too! Thanks for the tip, people.]

onions and cream

I never finished peeling them in time to make them for the dinner party, because better things distracted me, but that’s neither here nor there. When I got back to my onions a day later, everything was going along swimmingly until I reached the instruction that called for a cartouche which I am sure you already know what it is (I mean, who doesn’t?) but just in case, it is a piece of parchment paper with a one-inch circle cut from the middle, fitted into a pan and used as a lid. Why not just use a freaking lid, Thomas Keller? I implored him through the magazine. Why you gotta be so fancy? Deb, (yes, I talk to myself all of the time in the kitchen) I imagined him saying, this paper lid slows down the reduction of moisture in cooking; a lid lets too little out, no lid, too much. And Deb, is there anything actually stopping you from making a cartouche? You have parchment paper, you have scissors! And so I made a bleeping cartouche but I’m not sure that a slightly askew lid wouldn’t have had a close-enough effect.

And the onions? They were very very good. I knew Keller (or technically, his mama) wouldn’t let us down, and he didn’t. Sure, it may sound like creamed onions = cream + onions but this is more. It’s smoky salty drippings and nutmeg and thickened cream and sherry and chives and bits of browned bacon and is worth every one of the minutes I spent peeling those onions. If you’re only making one side this year, this could easily be it. If you’re only allowed to make one side and want that one side to upstage all of the other sides, this should definitely be it. Deb, you say, that’s not a very benevolent and bountiful holiday outlook! And I say, it’s okay, you’re among friends.

creamed pearl onions

One year ago: Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie
Two years ago: Home Fries, Apple Pancakes and a Fennel, Proscuitto and Pomegranate Salad I was just daydreaming about yesterday.
Three years ago: Pumpkin Waffles and Creamy White Polenta with Mushrooms
Four years ago: Shrimp Cocktail + Artichoke Potato Gratin

Creamed Pearl Onions with Bacon and Chives
Adapted from Thomas Keller’s mother

Because this is a Thomas Keller recipe, it originally called for 80 tiny onions, you know, so you can count them one by one. Because this Thomas Keller recipe has been adapted by Smitten Kitchen, I will tell you that 3 of those 10-ounce bags you can buy the fresh pearl onions in yielded 102 onions, and so I scaled the recipe accordingly below, to 125 percent, not because I enjoyed peeling tiny onions so much that I wanted to throw in 22 extra but because I knew the remaining onions would go otherwise unused, and that seemed wrong. I didn’t scale up the nutmeg or sherry, however, because I felt they were strong enough.

Remember how I went on and on about the cartouche (bless you!) (yeah, I’m 12) up there? Forget it. Skip it. It slowed things down too much. While waiting for the cream to reduce by half, the onions overcooked, some fell apart, and deposited too much water in the cream. (You might be able to tell from the photos.) I recommend below cooking them with a lid slightly ajar and when the onions are getting there, about 90 percent cooked through, remove the lid and reduce the cream by half. Plus, you won’t have to make French origami.

100 or so pearl onions, unpeeled (from 3 10-ounce bags)
2 1/2 ounces bacon (applewood-smoked is suggested), cut into a small dice
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons sherry
1/2 bunch chives, cut into 1/2-inch segments
Kosher salt, to taste (I used 1 teaspoon of Diamond Kosher salt)

Blanch the pearl onions for 3 minutes in a pot of boiling salted water. Drain, shock in a bath of ice water, and drain again. Peel the onions (making a slit with a paring knife down the side made this easiest for me), leaving a little of the root end intact.

[Want to use frozen, already peeled onions instead? I list some potential sources in the post.]

in a medium saucepan, cook the bacon until crisp, then remove it with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Leave only two tablespoons of the cooking fat in the pan, and add the pearl onions, heavy cream and nutmeg. Add salt to taste.

Cover the pot with a lid, leaving it a little ajar. Cook onions until they are nearly cooked through, about 90 percent of the way then remove the lid and finish cooking the onions while reducing the cream by half. Stir in the sherry.

If your onions are done cooking before the cream has sufficiently reduced or if you’re unsure about the alcohol in the sherry, remove the onions with a slotted spoon and transfer them to your serving dish. Continue cooking the remaining sauce to the desired consistency and taste and pour it back over the onions.

Garnish with bacon and chives and don’t forget to share.

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216 comments on creamed onions with bacon and chives

  1. I’ve had these on Thanksgiving as well. They’re so good… but not necessarily something I’d want to prepare frequently. Thank you for the lovely photos. The bacon would add a nice touch. Herbivores might prefer some nice, sharp cheddar cheese in place of the bacon.

  2. Pearl onions are one of those things that I love including in recipes (like risotto) but are such a pain to work with. It’s only for very special dishes, like this one, where I would make the exception.

    Any suggestions for substitutions for the bacon (for non-meat eaters out there)… or is this one of those recipes that you really can’t adapt?

    1. deb

      Brian — I would just skip it or sprinkle something else salty and crunchy on top — chopped smoked almonds? Ooh, now that I’m imagining it, I definitely vote for that, possibly even if you eat bacon!

  3. These sound delicious, but how exactly does one eat creamed onions? On something, as a kind of topping, or just by themselves from a spoon? I don’t think I’ve ever eaten onions by themselves (not that these are really by themselves, there’s all that wonderful bacon and everything, but still).

  4. Those are very pretty. It is a dish my mother would love. My husband would regaurd suspiciously the first three times I served it, and then would decide he loves it and would start informing me how he had always loved it and there was never an ounce of suspicion! Why is getting a boy to eat a whole onion so hard?

  5. laura

    This looks wonderful. If I’ve already bought cippolini onions for another Thanksgiving onion recipe, do you think they could work here, with a longer cooking time?

  6. Ahh, things like this make me wish I could eat bacon, but I love onions so much that I bet I’d still like it without. Way to be a badass by calling the frozen veggie companies! My friend and I were looking at pearl onions yesterday and thinking what a pain they’d be to peel.

  7. Janelle

    This sounds really good! Thanks for the tip at the end about cooking the sherry a little longer without overdoing the rest of the dish. I appreciate it!

  8. I’ve never heard of creamed onions – should I think “where have I been?” or is this something from the States? Help me put here people; I like to think I’m somewhat sophisticated with regards to food (about bodily functions etc, not so much…) Am I a total Luddite?

  9. This post made me laugh out loud. I’ve peeled lots of tiny pearl onions before and it took awhile! You’ve made me want to make this – if only to upstage all the other side dishes at Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks for bringing out my competitive side.

  10. Edie

    Yum – I love onions. And bacon. And cream.

    If you make a small “X” at the root end of the pearl onion before you blanche them, afterwards the onions will just pop out of their skins with a little pressure on the top. Peeling done in no time.

  11. Maggie

    In my kitchen, pearl onions come from the freezer section or we don’t have them (I definitely don’t recommend canned/jarred onions for anything other than a dirty martini, though). This looks absolutely divine — I think I’ll be making room among all the other sides I’m responsible for in order to have this at the Big Dinner. Thanks!

  12. I have been looking for a decent creamed onions recipe for a while, not only because I have always been slightly disgusted by the thought of it, but also because at the same time I think it would be delicious. I don’t know why I’ve always had a reaction of “Yuck/Yum.” Anyway, thanks!

  13. Sarah

    I must say that I’ve made versions of creamed onions for the past six or seven years at Thanksgiving and Easter and other gatherings and the fresh always beat out frozen by a very wide margin.

    My trick is to buy slightly larger pearl onions (not the teeny tiny ones sold in bags) – I select ones from the big bins. Then I have lots of room for error when I peel them. After GENTLY par boiling for two minutes maybe three, I then drain and let them cool until they are still warm, not hot. I then use very sharp scissors to snip off the string-ey tops and trim the rootey bottoms and then make a sharp cut vertically from top to bottom. I can then use a finger to peel off the papery skins and I don’t have to agonize about maybe peeling a layer or two as well. After all, I bought slightly larger ones so I have plenty of ball to stay intact.

  14. I can totally relate to starting something simple and it turning into something much more time involved! I have been admiring the little multi-coloured pearl onions at the store recently thinking they are so pretty and cute but not sure what to do with them and intimidated by all the peeling. I will try blanching.

    Looks delicious!

  15. I’ve had pearl onions sitting on my counter for three weeks, wondering what to do with them (besides add them to fresh peas with mushrooms). This looks like an elegant and tasty side dish for our dinner party tonight. Thank you!!

  16. Deb, I also questioned Mr. Keller’s beloved cartouche when I made the Leek Bread Pudding from Ad Hoc at Home. I went ahead with the damn thing and then decided later that it would have worked just as well to cover it partially with the lid. Clearly this man is not running after an agile 14-month-old or doing laundry and 10 other things while he cooks or he wouldn’t ask you to do a craft project right in the middle of everyting.

  17. Must admit, I hate working with pearl onions, but when you throw bacon into the mix, well, I might just have to convince the kids it’s good fine motor skills practice.

  18. I always argue with myself about the frigging cartouche. But I always skip the frigging cartouche. He and Molly Stevens both love ’em but I think lids are a pretty fantastic, and comparatively less expensive/wasteful, technology.

  19. I’ve never had creamed onions and now your the 2nd person this week to talk about them as a Thanksgiving side dish. Something tells me I must try them this year. And your recipe looks like a winner.

  20. Rebecca

    This looks lovely! I come from a creamed onions at Thanksgiving family myself. It’s funny, because for years nobody ate them, and we only had them on the plate because it was TRADITION and we HAD to have them… but then something changed, we started to really enjoy them, and now I find them positively yummy, one of my favorite things on the plate!

    And I’d like to vouch for glass-jar onions. That’s what my mommy uses, and they always end up great, very tender. Her recipe involves a roux to thicken the onions&cream up, so it ends up being kindof like an onion gravy, which I think is yummy with turkey, but I completely understand if I’m the only one ;-)

  21. ebee

    Looooong time reader – first time comment…why? — Starting new good habits before the New year! :D

    I so enjoy all things onion, and these look scrumptious. I know at least two in my family would devour these during the Thanksgiving holiday = reason enough to make them!! :D

    You are too funny!!

  22. rosalyn

    Love this post! Creamed onions has always been one of our families Thanksgiving favorites, but only in the last year or two has my mom (the official Thanksgiving cook) started using the frozen ones. They are definitely easier (for us prep helpers) and just as good even without the bacon! (we’ve added a vegetarian to the family who has a feast on veggies alone). I do think they appear in the stores seasonally but worth the search.

  23. I’m in charge of some of the Thanksgiving vegetables this year, and my immediate thought for this dish was: would it survive ok made ahead? I have to transport it across neighborhoods in Brooklyn and I’d love to know if you think this would stand up ok to gentle reheating?

  24. Jasmine

    I have half a bag of Bird’s Eye frozen pearl onions somewhere in the back of my freezer. I used half to make chicken stew nearly a year ago and they have been hiding back there ever since. This will be a great way to use them up, especially since everything is better with bacon!

  25. Wow! Just got turned down on my offer to bring creamed onions to Thanksgiving. (Apparently my inlaws don’t like onions. How can you not like onions?!) I told my husband I’d just make them for us. As soon as I found a recipe. Which I just did!

  26. marie

    i used canned, actually jarred onions every year, we LOVE creamed onions, and i find the jarred kind have a great texture. They aren’t pickles per se, but seem to have a little flavor from the liquid they are jarred in. We just make a creamy cheese sauce with slivered onions on top, and can’t get enough of them. I totally agree, trying to peel those little onions is just not worth it.

  27. Susan

    I grew up with creamed onions as part of Thanksgiving. I loved them, even as a kid..the same kid who would pick out pieces of chopped onion from other sauces! Go figure! These are definitely richer than the ones I’ve eaten.

  28. Stace

    Hey Deb, never had creamed onions before, but these look delicious!No Thanksgiving in New Zealand, but I’m sure these will go down a treat at any time of the year. Question: if using frozen onions, should they be defrosted first? Also, Jacob gets cuter with ever post!

  29. Ellen

    Here’s something my Japanese host mother taught me to semi-cover and vent for simmering: lay a chopstick across either side of the pot (about an inch in from the sides – the chopsticks are parallel to the stove) then put the lid on top of the chopsticks, creating a nice little gap for steam to escape. Works for any size pot/pan. No need for origami. O-tanoshimi-ni! (Have fun!)

  30. I second the blanching method! Throw them whole in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes, transfer to cold water, cut the root ends off, and push: peeled pearl onions! This looks DELICIOUS!!

  31. Julie

    Deb, you are hilarious. I can see myself having that exact sarcastic babble about the cartouche. ‘why you gotta be so fancy, Thomas Keller?’ Hahaha, so funny. You’re the best!

  32. Diane

    Ahhh.. creamed onions. My signature dish for Thanksgiving. I started making this about 10 years ago for Thanksgiving. When everyone first heard I was making it they sort of crinkled their noses. I think it’s the whole ‘creamed’ thing. You know, creamed corn, creamed beef, but I don’t see why. Creamed anything should be good. I only use fresh onions(once a year ain’t gonna kill me) and I make a roux, add cream, nutmeg and grate fresh carrots into it. My family would disown me if I even hinted that onions weren’t on the menu. Thanks for dusting off old fashion dish!!!

  33. Delicious! Just so you know Birds Eye does sell frozen pearl onions in 12oz. bags. I know because I have three in my freezer! The ones in the 9oz. box usually already have cream sauce on them. I don’t know how often you get out of the city but I find them at ShopRite.

  34. Jeannie

    I LOVE your simple but LONG WINDED recipes..goes to show it is the process and the products that make the difference not complicated ingredients or techniques necessarily, yummy, yummy..goes on my “To Cook” list. And I don’t necessarily eat meat but is bacon really a meat? I think it goes on the necessity list…

  35. Hi
    Jamie Oliver has a recipe for baked onions in one of his cookbooks. You blanch them, take out the centres, fill them with a mixture of onion, cream and parmesan and wrap a piece of bacon around them. They are delicious and these look delicious also.That was the first time I had seen the humble onion treated as a vegetable in its own right, it’s nice to see that they are used in a similar way for Thanksgiving. In the UK, baked onions were a popular side dish to accompany the roast meat but have lately fallen out of fashion. Thank you for sharing this recipe and hopefully reviving the onion love.

  36. First off, a slight typo ‘cooking fan in the pan’, I believe that will be ‘cooking fat’.

    On the cartouche, I’ve seen it used in some confit recipes. George Calombaris makes it by folding a piece of round parchement like you would want to make a piping bag, snip of the end and open it back up. I think it is more suitable for a recipe with much more fat and less water content in it and this is not one of those recipes.

  37. Sandra B

    I don’t think I’ve said so recently, so let me mention again how much I adore your blog and your style of writing. I can practically hear you talking to me and I gotta say, it cracks me up every time. Thanks for that!

  38. I know Birdseye told you they sell them in 9-ounce boxes, but I buy the Birdseye brand onions at Shoprite in 16-ounce bags — got a bunch of them stored up in my freezer, because I can never have too many frozen pearl onions on hand :)

  39. Lindsay

    SO glad you made these! I had read this same recipe at NYMag the other week and was planning to try it at Thanksgiving. Now I can’t wait – thanks!!

  40. Betsy

    All hail onions.
    And cream.
    And bacon.

    I work with pearl onions often; I cut off just the tips and blanch them for a few minutes, then dash them into ice water. Skins slide riiiiiiiiiiight off.

  41. GO TO TRADER JOES — which you never seem to mention in our blog — at least not when Im reading, admittingly, not everyday — TJ’s is fantastic and have way better quality for what Whole Foods charges even more for. (ie. WF = GIMMICK) and frozen pearls are 1.79 a bag. I had them tonight, sauteed until brown w/ with Pancetta, Mushrooms, Butter and White Wine Splash, YUMMY TUM TUM now ill try this recipe, and TA DA!

  42. Emily Z.

    We’ve had the same problem finding pearl onions – whether fresh or frozen and peeled – on so many occasions. Nothing beats them out left to simmer in a beef stew, but for some insane reason they are so difficult to track down. But always worth the hunt :) This recipe looks incredible, and I’m thinking Thanksgiving is a perfect reason to ignore any reservations concerning cream and bacon in the same dish…

  43. Paul

    Your poor outlook on traditional french techniques is, to a classically trained french chef, distressing =(. Please let me explain why cartouches are nice.

    It takes like ten seconds to make a cartouche, and it saves you the trouble of cleaning a lid later. You can always just cut the center hole larger or make the circle smaller so there’s a gap around the edge to get it to reduce faster if you found it took too long, or remove the cartouche towards the end of the cooking time. The nice thing about a cartouche is that because it lies on the surface of the food being cooked, it helps ensure an exceptionally even temperature in the pot (or the important parts of it, anyway), which helps everything cook very uniformly (especially important for vegetables like, say, pearl onions).

    Also, people are way more impressed at dinner parties when you bust out the french origami.

  44. anne

    Me, reading a smitten kitchen post: Where’s the baby photo? Is that the baby photo? No… is that the baby photo? Oh! Here it is! I win!

  45. Karen

    Looks amazing! So how would you adjust for using frozen onions? Less cooking time and less liquid? Or just less cooking time? Thanks!

  46. Sue

    HMMMM. This recipe just might replace the Cold Weather Cooking one with 3 mustards I’ve been using for years. Time for a change!! And I agree. Lose the cartouche. This is the sort of thing that makes people think cooking is too difficult :)

  47. Just Jeannie

    How many bags of the 16oz. frozen onions would have the 100 to 120 for this lovely recipe. I think I’ll give it a go with half the bacon and some smoked almonds. Thanks for helping me find uses for my ever expanding garlic chive population.

  48. I never thought to cream the onions. Great idea. If I do make an adaptation, it will be a sub for the sherry (my wife is pregnant) and turkey bacon because we eat too much real bacon as is.

  49. Selkie

    I pile the unpeeled onions in a steamer and steam them until soft. Cool, snip off the top of onion and it squeezes right out leaving the peel and root end in your hand. Voila! Creamed onions are the one thing I HAVE to have on Thanksgiving: so good….

  50. Elizabeth in VT

    About 4 years ago I made creamed onions for Thanksgiving (fresh onions, with sauce like Diane’s – #70), and converted several of the creamed onion haters. Since then I have been the Official Creamed Onion Provider. I love the bacon idea. I love the many variations i’ve learned by reading the comments.

    And I’ve learned that frozen onions work, too! I had no idea!

  51. What Happens After Five

    Oh my goodness, these look incredible!! I’ve had creamed onions before but never quite on this level – I have to try!

    1. deb

      MJ — Great idea!

      Trader Joe’s — Thanks for the suggestion. I forgot to call them! I will edit it in. They always have excellent quality frozen vegetables and are so close to me, I weep over the time I spent a-peeling.

      Some people have asked me why I don’t talk about TJ’s more more but the truth is, I really don’t use the store more than a few times a year. They have excellent frozen stuff and packaged food, but I use little of either most of the time. Plus, their lines in NYC are atrocious (they weave through every aisle of the store, so you cannot even get to the racks, and are more nightmarish with a stroller) and I always walk out with chocolate-covered-something and we end up eating them all.

      Many comments about blanching the onions first to remove the skin — Please note, this is exactly what the recipe suggests. It will still take some time to peel them, especially if you do as suggested and leave the root ends intact.

  52. Cindy in GA

    O.K., finally here’s a recipe that’s inspiring me to give creamed onions another try. I USED to be an ambitious cook, trying one new dish every year at Thanksgiving (in addition to all of our old favorites!), and one year I tried to make creamed onions… They were bland, mushy, watery – yuck. I’m pretty sure we ended up throwing them out. With 5 kids now, I’m a little less ambitious when it comes to big holiday meals, but these onions look really good! I’ve gotta give ’em another try. :o)

  53. Edan

    Perhaps I am being obtuse, but could this be made with sliced…not pearl onions? Wouldn’t you just reduce a little longer to account for any extra water?
    I know Mr. Keller wouldn’t approve, but would it be a disaster?

  54. Amy Weldon

    In my Southern family we have made creamed onions every Thanksgiving and Christmas for YEARS. Our recipe calls for pearl onions in the jar, the juices of which you reduce way down in a little saucepan, then add butter and cream to, then pour over the onions and bake. Some butter-soaked crumbled crackers on top are also good. This looks like a wonderful variation — I will try it when I go home for Thanksgiving next week! Love your blog and your recipes.

  55. Anne

    This recipe sounds great. My mother loves them for holiday meals but we haven’t had them for years. Maybe this is the year with this recipe!
    Side note: I’ve used frozen pearl onions for Easter peas & onion dish… and dye the pearl onions with food coloring to add to the Easter ‘feeling’. The kids love them like that… though I’m not sure they ate them. :-)

  56. NicM

    I found the best onion selection to be in the winter. Last January I found about 6 different varieties and made a fantastic onion soup. This is definitely going on my list of dishes to make this winter.

  57. As I sit here eating left over creamed spinach for lunch, go figure it’s the creamed kind of vegetable season. I finally found the one side I’m allowed to bring side! And I was going to use frozen ones, which are hard to find, before I ever got to that part and no way on the parachment lid. Some people have way to much time.
    Think of me this weekend. My sister in law called last night to put me in charge of cutting her daughte’rs wedding cake, for 300 people!

  58. Momcat

    I’m not sure whether I’ve been offered creamed onions or not – I was an extremely picky eater as a child and I’m sure I would have turned them down. But now that I’m a grown-up and will eat almost anything that doesn’t eat me first, I think it’s time to give them a try. I’m charged with making the dressing and a vegetable for Thanksgiving. Think I’ll make that TWO vegetables!

  59. Isabelle

    I laughed so hard when I read this… Two years ago while my mom was visiting, my brother and she decided they needed pearl onions but couldn’t find any. When they finally located some frozen ones, they bought about 8 bags, the store’s entire supply and brought some to my place. I was puzzled about why I would 1) want so many pearl onions and 2) why I couldn’t just go to the store should the unlikely need for said onions occur! They assured me it was a real treasure, probably because they jumped through all the same hoops as you to get them, so I dutifully put them in my freezer where they have lived undisturbed ever since. Perhaps it’s time they had their day in the limelight… thanks for the inspiring post!

  60. Elisa

    Hi Deb, do you think there would be any harm in cooking the onions the day before and then adding the sherry, bacon and chives on Thanksgiving?

  61. I’m not much of an onion eater, although I do cook with them now, but I have to say, I’m intrigued (is that excessive use of commas? Maybe.). I do, however LOVE with capital L-O-V-E Julia Child’s braised onions, which she uses for her beef burgundy (or boeuf bourguignon, if you’re snooty or French). I ate almost all of the little rascals last time I made her recipe. Mmmm! So tasty. I guess I need to try these and see if those little pearl onions taste just as delicious with cream as they do with beef stock, butter and wine! I’m betting yes!

    1. deb

      Delia — I wholeheartedly agree that Julia Child’s brown onions are among the best things on earth.

      Frozen onions — I might defrost them first, just to remove/drain off as much water content as possible.

      Tabitha — It’s a good question. You should try one and if you think it’s mostly done but if you wouldn’t mind it softening up a bit more — maybe there’s a little bite in the middle, like al dente pasta — you’re probably at a good place to take off the lid.

  62. Jean Marie

    I buy frozen (peeled) pearl onions in bags at my local grocery store. Birds Eye, maybe? I have discovered that Chef Keller is sometimes not invincible. Or he just doesn’t have to live life as we do. I’ve made his roast chicken w/root veggies 3 times and the last time, did not “nestle” the bird on the bed of veggies but suspended it in a rack over the veggies. Much better – browned veggies and crispy skin and a wonderful dinner. Sometimes we just have to go with our instincts!

  63. This is the recipe I have been waiting for. Totally making this for my dish to bring to Thansgiving. I luckily get a steady supply of the frozen onions at my local grocery store. I pickled a bunch to use in martinis. Yum and fun!

  64. Nicole

    Lucky for me I read this before my Trader Joe’s trip today! Hopefully they won’t be sold out of pearl onions! And I’m going to try it with their diced pancetta, because I’m lazy that way!

  65. Tabitha

    This was the occasion for me to buy all the bag of pearl onions that Kroger had in stock (88 cents a bag!). And, it was definitely a good idea. Except for the part about them being ridiculously addictive.

    I do have a question though. How do you know when they are 90% finished cooking (or 100% for that matter). I cooked them and enjoyed them, but still am unsure whether they were not done, done, or too done. It’s probably a newbie question. But, since it’s my first post, I’m excusing myself.

    I love your blog style!

  66. Megan

    I made these last night for a dinner party tonight. I was able to find frozen pearl onions at Whole Foods. They were Birdseye, I think, and were in a 16 oz bag. I used 2 bags (based on the 3x10oz bags mentioned by Deb) and it seemed to work out fine. I tried one before packaging them up, and the flavor was perfect. Sweet, rich, salty and savory. Perfect.

  67. AZ

    Hi Deb,

    I love reading about your recipes as much as trying them. Kudos to you for making the cartouche! As well as adapting a recipe from the Gods for us mortals..


    P.S. Your distraction is adorable!

  68. How right you are about creamed onions! I recently made a curried, cream version and the fragrance is indescribable. My frustration mounted with the peeling process but so worth it! Cheers!

  69. Dan

    Was curious if one couldn’t cut an X or something in the top and bottom of the onion prior to peeling, and then soak them for a bit and thus have the peeling be less of a hassle?

  70. Rennie

    I sprinkle bread crumbs and parmesan on the bottom of a buttered, shallow casserole, add blanched onions, cream & white vermouth, and top with more bread crumbs and parmesan and bake them. I trust Thomas Keller enough to want to try these- and you’ve made them look scrumptious- but it’s all about the toasty bread crumbs for me.

  71. This looks like a definite must for Thanksgiving! I was using pearl onions in another recipe one year, and my sainted mother, who usually overstepped her bounds in every other capacity and constantly made unwelcome remarks, was patiently peeling blanched onions that I had painstakingly bought at the farmers market. Finally she said, “You know, you can buy these frozen.”
    I was in. They sell them here in California supermarkets, Deb, and not just at Trader Joe’s.

  72. Imwaytoobusy

    This sounds delicious and perfect for the insanely cold weather we are having. I may be feeling bold enough to attempt this :)

  73. Marcia

    Birdseye misspoke..they make a 1 pound bag of frozen pearl onions ..not too hard to find.. I just picked one up today at Fairway to use for my Thanksgiving 5 onion old Gourmet (RIP) recipe from 1982.

  74. stephanie

    hey deb,

    i saw a couple people ask about subs for the sherry but didn’t see that you’d responded – ideas, or can it be left out entirely? it’s not that i wouldn’t like it or can’t have it, but i just don’t feel like buying something for a glug’s worth and then having it ferment somewhere until the end of time ;)

    re: TJ’s – omg, in boston it is EXACTLY like you describe too. i hate it. i don’t know why they insist on having these teensy little stores (with full size shopping carts!!) as it’s always a clusterfuck of epic proportions (i sometimes used to stop in if i needed dog food in a pinch as there was one across from an old job). the other thing i don’t care for is the extreme amount of packaged produce. wtf is that about? anyways, i’ll take the spacious whole foods over the anxiety attack that is TJ’s any day!

    1. deb

      stephanie and others that have asked about Sherry substitutions — Obviously, skipping it is fine. As for substituting, you know, sherry is sherry. I would not recommend a non-alcoholic or cooking sherry because the flavor could ruin a wonderful dish. If it’s not the alcohol, just finding sherry, you might also try marsala, for a slightly different flavor. I hesitate to suggest this because I haven’t tried it (proceed at your own risk and whatnot) but you might finish it with a teaspoon or so of a good vinegar, a sherry vinegar, or an aged balsamic.

  75. Jill

    I made these last nights sans bacon. Toasted a handful of chopped almonds until they were almost burnt, then tossed with a little bit of tamari, worcestershire, liquid smoke, salt, and pepper. Yes, the worcestershire was anchovy-free. And yes, they were delicious.
    Thanks, Deb.

  76. Oh man, I was trying so hard to ignore that delicious-looking recipe in the NY mag and opt for a more healthful version from Eating Well, but your post just made me realize how silly that is. Cream and bacon, here I come!

  77. Oh wow, this looks super yummy. Would look amazing served with the table setting I just posted about! I never knew you could cook those little onions like that…I def need to get more creative in the kitchen.

  78. Eileen

    So this will feed about how many people, as a small side dish? I’m thinking 20-30 onions a person, so this recipe is for about 4 people… This extrapolates to way too much peeling for a 12 person thanksgiving party, but I will certainly try it another time!

  79. Dear Smitten Kitchen,
    I just got home from a horrible very bad day, and this little post cheered me right up! Actually, most of your posts just make me smile. The food of course is divine, but your style and humour are irreplaceable. Thank you :) From my little kitchen in Madrid to yours in NYC.

  80. Sam

    These onions look exactly perfect for Thanksgiving. I was just oogling some in the Green Pea (veggie store near my house) the other day wondering what to do with them. Thanks for the post!

  81. maggie

    I was at the grocery store and saw both yellow and white pearl onions in the produce section for about $4 a pound. I thought about you, Deb, and your quest to find them. You just live in the wrong city. Chicago loves onions!
    I’ll save this recipe for the December get-togethers, and impress my family. No more cheez-whiz and frozen broccoli for this girl!

  82. Dana


    With a little monkey in tow, what is your game plan for Thanksgiving? I have a little monkey myself slightly older thank Jacob but just as mischivious and was wondering what to do so as not to drive us both nuts.

    I am a new fan, stumbled upon your site by way of Luisa and got addicted!

  83. Creamed onions have been part our tradition, so much so, we never used a recipe, just knew how to make them. I laughed when I saw your picture of creamed pearl onions because this would be a breach in our tradition from using large onions. Pearls sound fun and yummy. Your pictures are fabulous.

  84. Birds Eye also sells them frozen in 1 lb bags. I just bought 8 bags for about $2.00 each bag. My MIL makes her creamed onions using bottled pearl onions (you know the ones you can use in alcoholic drinks) which she drains (and saves a bit of onion water to add later). They’re delicious.

  85. Nikki

    I’m in the UK – can’t find these onions fresh or frozen so my DH used a couple of bags of baby onions – sold as “pickling onions” here to make this for dinner along with some pan-fried halibut, green beans & sauteed potatoes – best dinner ever! Never heard of creamed onions here & was trying out this recipe as a tester side dish for xmas, its definitely on the menu now, absolutely sublime. Also used them to make the roasted onions to go alongside your roasted beef short ribs (something else I couldn’t find, substituted beef shin). Thanks for reminding us the humble onion can shine on its own. two gorgeous dishes.

  86. For vegetarians instead of cheese (which would drown the delicate flavor of the onions) I’d suggest something like chopped toasted nuts. Hazelnuts maybe? Or possibly walnuts. Then you’d have the crunch and the toasty flavor the bacon brings, as well as a bit of richness.

    Oh, and I’ve used Madeira in creamed onions before (instead of the sherry) and loved it, but then I have a thing for Madeira.

  87. I felt that this woud be a great dish to bring to the Thanksgiving dinner where I was not the host. I was surprised that the fresh onions were NOT the nightmare to prepare that I’d experienced in the past, thanks to the tip of slitting a side skin So I used kitchen shears to trim root end then the tip and then the side, as you did. having done that job ahead of time, i was really looking forward to assembling that luscious sauce.
    That’s were my insecurities came out. Bacon in, great… onions in,…great… cream and nutmeg great. but then i feel that i cooked the onions a little too long. since they went in cold, i simmered all for 30 minutes. took them out at that point because they were fully cooked and the cream really needed to reduce a lot. That’s all fine. But now separated, i don’t feel that the onions and cream REcombined so nicely (remember i was the bring-a-dish person: it’s gotta be gorgeous and good).
    i hate to say it but i did wish for a more clear guideline for how long to cook those onions. you do want them to melt in your mouth, but not loose shape in dish. Lucky enough i think i barely escaped loose shape. 20 minutes would have been adequate.
    I found that the cream had a ‘curdled bits’ appearance and i wanted it to be silky- smoothe so i used my stick blender and that really helped with that issue.
    Well the proof is in the pudding and I’m anxious to serve at the Thanksgiving table.
    Happy Thanksgivin and LOVE the Website!

  88. Michelle

    I made this as a take-along dish for Thanksgiving — it worked out great! Thanks for sharing this recipe — I will consider my side-dish to be the STAR of the meal!

  89. Stephanie B

    I made these for Thanksgiving dinner this evening and they were fantastic; they will probably be a staple at holiday dinners from now on. Thanks for bringing this dish to my attention. (I’m too lazy to try things on my own so I rely on you for delicious new ideas.)

  90. Beanwean

    These were fabulous! I added petite green peas at the last minute (frozen, somewhat thawed, rinsed free of ice crystals) and skipped the chives because mine died in the big Seattle freeze last week and I wasn’t going to pay cash money for something that is available for free in my garden 8 months out of the year. This is going to be a regular at our dinner table (with chives once they grow back), especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thank you, Deb, for another winner! Kiss that baby for me!

  91. Kelly l

    Quick tip- boil the unpeeled pearl onions for 3 minutes, not to cook them, shock in cold water and then peel. The boiling process loosens the skin.

  92. Jennifer

    Have had a creamed recipe in the family for 50+ years, and every year it was, oh yah, we have to have creamed onions for Tgiving, no one was ever really excited about creamed onions UNTIL this recipe! Made it yesterday with frozen pearls from TJ…this recipe will now replace the boring not so yummy recipe of past. Have used both frozen and fresh onions… this recipe, can’t really taste the difference, and frozen is so much easier/quicker/yummier…..this is a keeper and that is hard to do with a family tradition!

  93. Krisy

    My aunt taught me how to quickly “peel” onions for creaming. Drop them into very hot (not quite boiling) water for three minutes. They drop them into cold water for three minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, simply squeeze the end, and they literally POP out of the skins and into you awaiting bowl. Takes about one-fifth of the time that peeling them does. And it makes it easier to eat these all year ’round, which makes me happy :-)

  94. DanielleInNH

    Another smashing recipe, Deb. I think that it is impossible for you to disappoint!!! I just wanted to let you know that I served these along with my traditional Turkey Day dinner to my parents – who are of the “if it is not traditional, I probably will not like it” crowd. They have been making a “boiled onion soup” (onions, evaporated milk, butter, salt and pepper) for the holidays for years. I am VERY happy to report, that not only did they try these, they DEVOURED them!! Thank you for continuing to impress. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

    P.S. – I do not think that Jacob could be any cuter, look any more like you or have a more devilish grin!!

  95. Danika

    Kate – I had the same experience with this recipe – the cream curdled and globbed onto the onions. I was so repulsed that I washed (yes, washed) under hot running water each of the little onions off. The bacon fat and cream did not play well together in my kitchen.

    See, in our house turkey is considered the side dish and the onions are the show stopper. We’ve been making the same recipe from an early 90’s issue of Gourmet for two decades. It isn’t Thanksgiving without them. So messing up the onions is not an option. Hence the washing off of the curdled cream and starting again.

    Please don’t let this recipe turn you off of the pearl onion goodness. Try this one, which uses butter instead of bacon fat (though I would skip the cloves):
    Caramelizing the onions is the key step that Keller missed. It gives them a depth of flavor that just can’t be replicated with bacon and sherry.

  96. Babs

    This was the hit of our dinner as promised. We used red and white pearl onions and applewood smoked bacon we had just smoked that morning which I’m sure put it on the “Over The Top” list of foods. You have another hit on your hands. Also made the old Food and Wine starter soup of Silken Turnip and Potato soup. Only butter…no milk. Not a drop left of that either! Keep em comin!

  97. Marci

    Thanksgiving hit. Two changes: pancetta for bacon, add some smoked gouda. Decadence in a bowl. Also, I successfully used the TJ’s onions. Yummm.

  98. AKNikki

    I made these for Thanksgiving and they were a huge hit! I get frozen, peeled pearl onions from a high end grocery near where I live, thank goodness, because otherwise, this would have never been made! I defrosted the onions first in a colander by running cold water over them, then letting them drain really well. Pulled them out of the cream because they were done and continued cooking the cream until it was reduced. Completely forgot to add the sherry, but i threw in a little salt and pepper. DELICIOUS!

  99. Kristina

    Despite being a dedicated bacon-eater, I simply had to try that smoked almond idea since there’s this guy at the farmer’s market down the street from my office that sells de-freakin-licious paprika smoked almonds. I used two tablespoons of bacon grease that I had saved from other dishes (I told you I was a dedicated bacon eater) and topped the whole thing with crushed paprika almonds. It was fantastic. I need to stop thinking about it or I will go to the fridge and eat the leftovers right now.

  100. I’ve never made cream onion in my life which makes this recipe a great culinary adventure for me.I really hope I won’t flop because this dish looks so yummy in the pictures! Good luck to me…. :)

  101. Hi, Deb.

    Fairway had fresh peeled pearl onions put up by Christopher Ranch, which because of this post I got on my way out of town for Thanksgiving.

    I had made a ham the week before which still had some lovely meat clinging to the bone, and instead of just creamed onions, I made my usual recipe for creamed fordhook lima beans this time with pearl onions and little pieces of ham added. It was delicious. Thanks for the idea.

    Happy holidays.

  102. Whit


    Thank you SO MUCH for this recipe! It was a HUGE hit at Thanksgiving! Even my mother, who groused that I added a dish not on the original menu, thoroughly enjoyed them. By the way, I used Kroger brand frozen pearl onions and they worked beautifully!

  103. betty

    Hello Deb, thanks for this good recipe. I made them for Thanksgiving as well, and one of my nephews had thirds! No bacon because of abstainers, but it was still divine.

    I froze what was left — two cups-ish or so — and made soup today. Browned the onions in some olive oil, added some flour, then some milk and just a bit of leftover whipping cream, to use it up. Put in some curry, some tumeric, and a wee bit of chili powder. Used the immersion blender, garnished with chopped fresh parsley (also hanging around since Thanksgiving). Yum!

    (I found my frozen onions at Trader Joe’s.)

  104. Paige

    We made these for Thanksgiving and are making them again for Christmas. Huge hit and some of us add a dash of Louisiana hot sauce for an extra kick. We used to use white wine instead of sherry. Sherry is far superior.

  105. Anita

    I made these for our Thanksgiving dinner which was at my home this year and my mom liked them so much she asked me to make them again for our Christmas dinner at her house. The second time I made them I was a bit rushed for time and need the sauce to thicken quicker so I addedabout a 1/4 cup of shredded Asiago. Even the kids were eating these at christmas. This recipe is definitely a keeper, thank you for sharing!

  106. Callie

    I made these last nigh and they were fantastic. I used 2 bags of boiler onions and steamed them for about 12 minutes, so that when they hit the pan with the cream they were ready for the sauce to reduce. They turned out amazing! Thanks for the peeling tip, it worked great.

  107. Thank you for a great recipe! They turned out so creamy and delicious. I used my leftovers to create a potato onion soup. I added diced potatoes and chicken broth. Delicious both times. Thanks again.

  108. Rebecca

    Deb ~ how hilarious that you counted the onions in the bag! I find it hilarious because I myself did the exact same thing when I made Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon for New Year’s Eve last year (2010). I’m sure the other shoppers thought I was nutty, standing there in the produce aisle, counting tiny onions! It’s all good though ~ the Bourguignon was perfect and enjoyed by all!

  109. wesley

    Hi Deb: new to your site, but enjoyed reading through your blog. The recipe sounds great. A Doctor friend of mine asked a few day ago if I had ever heard of or eaten creamed onions. I thought everybody had. Oh well your recipe sounds great and will try for a variety. I cannot find anything that does not go well with onion,bacon, chese, chives etc,etc. etc. your get the picture. thanks again.

  110. Dawn

    These are the best onions I have ever eaten in my life! I made them last month for Canadian Thanksgiving and the whole family adored them. The sherry takes them to a whole new level. They have already been requested for Christmas dinner, and I might just have to make them for dinner tonight…

  111. Dawn

    and Barbara — I reheated the leftovers the next day and they were just as good, so I’d say you could definitely make them ahead of time.

  112. Robert Bumsted

    This is your warning, Thanksgiving cooks! The recipe as-is doesn’t yield enough for your table if you plan to serve more than a few people… Just learned that the hard way.. DOH!

  113. Lorraine

    I am a self proclaimed “creamed onion queen”. Many years ago, every Thanksgiving creamed onions were my Mom’s specialty using, of course, only “real” pearl onions. As mom aged, one year her onions just did not taste “right”…and we found, hidden, in the garbage, the empty box of frozen Birdeye creamed onions.
    The following year I was determined to make the best tasting creamed onions without the hard work of peeling and boiling all those little white onions. The creamed sauce was the easy part…but I had to do a LOT of experimenting to figure out the right taste and texture between the frozen and the jarred.
    It took me a week….of tasting and testing…and gaining weight..but here are my DEFINITE conclusions. Turns matter how much thawing and draining the frozen onions, never really lost all of their watery taste and consistency
    The jarred were the clear winners…WITH some definite steps taken. 1) Rinse jars well to remove sodium. then place in a strainer over a bowl and place in the refrige for 48 hours. It takes that long to get out all the additional and non important liquids
    Then proceed with recipe. I personally add other pre boiled onions to my mix: scallion heads, cippollini,scallots and sometimes wedges of white large onions. I mix all into the cream sauce…and then top with chopped chives

  114. Susan

    Just discovered that Trader Joe’s sells fresh already peeled pearl onions. A bag has about 20 in it. I’ve used the frozen in the past and wasn’t crazy about the texture so am excited to try these.

  115. Marie

    Hi Deb, How long approximately does it take to cook the onions, and what is the idea flame/heat level? You say cook until they are about 90% done. I have no idea how long that would be nor how to tell when they are 90% done. Also, any idea how long to cook after you’ve put in the sherry and are doing the final reduction? Any advice is appreciated. Happy Thanksgiving!

  116. Randi

    These look divine! I hope I have enough onions! I only bought two packages frozen from Trader’s. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving AND Happy Hanukkah as well.

  117. Jessica Haque

    My husband’s family doesn’t eat pork so when I got the urge to make it this time I used ghee instead of bacon fat and added garlic, truffle powder, and a little MSG to make up for the loss of flavor. Turned out great!