I thought I'd start today's post with an Action!shot because I should pay tribute to those hardworking hands of my dear father, who so patiently and selflessly peeled pounds and pounds (or ounces and ounces) of pearl onions the day of Thanksgiving. Do you see the filmy little onion membrane? The gloopy texture of the half-cooked orb? The irritating fussiness of the act of peeling an onion? Father! Tribute has been paid. Thank you and thank you again. Sadly, all that effort was, if not for naught, then for nothing special.
Two years ago, the New York Times ran a Thanksgiving article with recipes culled from 12 different chefs, including Barbara Lynch of Boston's No. 9 Park. Her contribution was a dish of creamed red and white pearl onions. The photo accompanying the recipe was gorgeous - tiny onions napped in a creamy sauce and topped with a crisply browned cap of breadcrumbs. It sounded irresistible and just the thing for the Thanksgiving table.
But there were a few problems. First of all, the recipe calls for blanching the onions for 5 minutes, and then peeling them (Father! Thank you again! The tribute-paying continues!). It wasn't until the dish was on the table that we realized the recipe never really called for another cooking stage in which the onions would be fully cooked. A pass under the broiler doesn't end up doing much to par-cooked onions. So they were a bit crunchy, instead of being slippery-tender.
Also, the amount of cream called for was terrifying. We cut the amount by half, and there was still an overwhelming amount of sticky cream to deal with. Instead of lightly coating each onion, it pooled around the lot of them in an unappetizing sludge. The flavor of the whole dish was not bad - if you like bacons and cream and partially cooked onions - nothing to turn your nose up at. But it was too heavy, too oily, too raw for us.
The final problem, which was my fault entirely, was forgetting the dish under the broiler for one minute too long. The breadcrumbs were singed to a blackened crisp. I panicked. And then a delightfully calm and collected dinner guest swept in, assured me in no uncertain terms that blackened breadcrumbs would bring flavor and texture to the dish, and helped me pick off the most offending bits. Now that kind of guest should be present at all dinner parties: to encourage the exhausted cook, help in times of crisis, and still tuck in heartily to the meal. Thank you, Ourida!
Creamed Red and White Pearl Onions with Bacon
2 10-ounce bags red pearl onions
1 10-ounce bag white pearl onions
2 1/2 ounces thick cut bacon, diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 pints heavy cream
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1. If red and white onions are about the same size, bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add onions and blanch until skins loosen slightly, about 5 minutes. Drain. (If white onions are considerably larger, blanch onions separately, increasing time on white onions by a couple of minutes.) Peel onions and set aside. (Onions can be peeled and blanched ahead of time. Place in 2-quart zipper-lock bag and refrigerate until ready to use.)
2. Saute bacon in a Dutch oven over medium-heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside. Pour off bacon fat. Melt butter in Dutch oven over low heat until foaming, add shallots and garlic and cook until translucent but not browned, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Add heavy cream and simmer until cream is thick and golden, and has reduced by half, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir onions into cream to heat through.
3. Heat broiler. Turn onions and cream into a shallow 11/2-quart casserole dish. Top with bacon, bread crumbs and parsley. Place under broiler and cook until crumbs are browned and dish is bubbling, about 10 minutes.