glazed pearl onions in port

port braised onions

Honestly, if someone told me I had to go and live on a uninhabited island and could bring one vegetable with me, it would be an onion. My kitchen feels oddly empty when I run out, which is why I buy loads of them at once as if the great onion famine is going to set in any day. I always wonder about the folks in the check-out line with a singular onion – why just one? Can’t you just chop up a great deal of them and make caramelized onions, spread them on bread with a little fleur de sel and you have a meal fit for a king?

Consider the onion – it is a humble thing. It’s subterranean, for one, growing in the dirt. It isn’t all sweet and welcoming like a carrot is, for instance. It’s never been serenaded, unlike, say the plum. Songs have not been written about it unlike beans for example. It’s got a smell, a bite, and it makes you cry. It’s cheap, fairly pedestrian and socially maligned (just try ordering a salad for lunch with onions and see what happens). And yet, what sandwich would be complete without it? What soup wouldn’t get more depth if you took on onion out? Making stock? Better have an onion on hand.

port braised onionsport braised onions

And when I say I can be giddy with a piece of hearty bread, topped with slowly caramelized onions and fleur de sel, I’m not lying. As a child, it was one thing my mother could make at any time and I would eat it. All of it. Without leaving so much as a little onion piece behind. I would have turned down chocolate and cookies just to sit down with a bowl of caramelized onions. And I might be the only one out there who swoons at the word “allium” – I once name my goldfish that. Unfortunately the goldfish lived an additional three hours and then decided it was time to go belly up. Perhaps it was offended at the name, but I meant it in the highest of compliments.

port braised onions

So let me just warn you before I give you the recipe for this. If you’re an onion fan and if the thought of slow-cooking an onion gives you weak knees like it does to me, run to the grocery store and get the ingredients to make this. Go now, don’t wait. As a side dish this is perfection. Roasted in port, these are luxurious, earthy, fully developed flavors. While peeling them is time consuming and is a pain, the end result is so worth it. Besides, roasting the onions in port makes the dish anything but pedestrian.

Glazed Pearl Onions in Port with Bay Leaves

3 10-ounce bags unpeeled pearl onions, root ends trimmed but left intact
3 cups ruby Port
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar


Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Using sharp knife, cut X across root ends of pearl onions; place in large bowl. Pour hot tap water over onions; let soak 1 hour. Remove onions from water and peel.

Transfer to a baking dish. Add Port, broth, bay leaves, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook for an hour and a half until the onions are nicely browned and the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 10 servings


  • Brittany

    Growing up I liked the flavor cooked onions imparted on food, but hated actually eating the things. In the last two years though, I haven’t been able to get enough of them. Yesterday I caramelized onions for four hours and then spread the stuff on ribeye. After this post, I might have to dedicate another day to slow cooking onions.

  • Amanda

    I share your love about onions! My go-to weekday dinner is chicken sauteed with onions in a little soy sauce and Thai fish sauce. I could eat that 5 days out of the week. I might change up my rotation though, seeing as how I am dreaming about onions with cheese on toast :)

  • Laura

    God I wish I had a bunch of pearl onions in the house…I’d absolutely make this for dinner tonight! Onions really are the most amazing vegetable…onion marmalade is my personal favorite…I guess it is essentially what you put on your toasts as a kid…

  • Anticiplate

    These look amazing, but I have to say, the peeling is an issue for me. But, the peeled frozen ones do not EVEN compare. Peeling them makes these well worth each bite:)

  • merritt

    I too adore onions. I remember buying groceries and getting the third degree from the check-out guy. “Are you having a party? How many people are you feeding?” He asked. “Just two…” I said. He holds a five-pound bag of onions and says “It’s just a lot of food.” He then went on a monologue about how he likes to buy groceries everyday, which is easy, I guess, if you WORK at whole foods. He was unlike the rest of us, who usually have to buy several days worth of provisions on one day.
    Anyway, I love a good slow-roasted anything. I just tried port for the first time last fall and really loved the flavor of it, but I have yet to pick up a bottle of my own. This may tip me over the edge.

  • Girl Healthy

    I remember when I was little playing in my grandparents’ garden. My grandmother would pull up onions out of the ground, clean them off, and take a bite right there outside! While I’ve never been as eager to eat an onion as my grandmother, I do truly love and appreciate their flavor. Red onions in particular can add so much depth to such simple recipes. Thanks for this post.

  • radish

    Amanda – now i want to go to McSorley’s and eat saltines with cheese, mustard and onions. And it’s only 8am.
    Laura – I know, I normally don’t have pearl onions hanging out in the crisper either. Rats.
    Anticiplate – peeling was annoying, but so well worth it. And beats the frozen guys ANY day!
    Merritt – I wish I could go shop every day for groceries :) but have a busy day job that keeps me there most of the day. Plus onions keep for awhile, why NOT get a lot of them at once and use them liberally at will? Oh also on port – I love port, but am more of a tawny than a ruby girl. Tawny’s are a bit more smoky and mysterious and rubies are sweeter. I’m a fan of Taylor Fladgate 10 yr Reserve Tawny Port or their 20 yr old one (SO GOOD!). There are others, but this one can easily be found in good liquor stores. A good port is well worth paying for and it’s SO tasty.

  • Amy

    How super! Just the thing to do with that silly container of multi-colored pearl onions I bought at Trader Joe’s because it was pretty.

  • Denise

    I tried this recipe last night and the liquid never reduced to a thick sauce at 250 degrees. After an hour and 15 minutes, the onions were barely browned and still hard. I ended up turning it up to 425 degrees, dumped off half the liquid and then it reduced some but never got very thick. The onions were still delicious so not a total loss but probably won’t make this again. Between peeling the onions and the length of cooking time, I’d just as soon chop an onion and caramelize it on the stove top.

  • olga

    Denise – sorry to hear. To be honest, I haven’t made this in ages, but when I used to, friends always clamored for more. Perhaps I should retest once I figure out schedule post baby. Thanks for the heads up.

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