Out of everything on the Thanksgiving table, this dish is my favorite. For anyone who has ever spent Thanksgiving with me, you know that creamed onions are kind of my specialty. Ever since I was little I have had a strong affinity for onions. My mom says that when I was little, she would often catch me eating them like apples. I recognize that some of you may not share my love and you are probably scrunching your nose already. Fair enough. I recommend you click that “back” button on your browser and find a different recipe. Fellow onion lovers, read on! You are about to discover a recipe that just might become part of your annual traditions.
I started making creamed onions for Thanksgiving when I was in high school. I saw a picture of this dish in a Williams Sonoma store, and I knew it would be right up my alley. Since that year, I have made creamed onions every year for Thanksgiving. To be honest, I can’t even remember where I found the recipe that I used that first year. It just sort of stuck with me and I have been fine tuning it every year since.
It is critical for this recipe that you are able to find fresh, white pearl onions. Don’t mistake cippolini or boiling onions for pearl onions – they are too big. Finding the right onions can sometimes be a challenge and may require some shopping around. They often come in a small mesh bag and are usually only available during the holiday season. This year, I managed to find them at the second Whole Foods I checked. Don’t give up and go for the frozen kind! Your dish will end up watery with onions that are too soft.
Using fresh pearl onions is a labor of love because the onions need to be blanched and individually peeled. If you ask anyone in my family, it is absolutely worth it. I am actually making this dish twice this year, once for a pre-Thanksgiving party we are hosting this year and once for the big day (I told you it was my specialty!). I find the peeling process rather cathartic, but I am also a person who can sit and crochet for an entire evening or finish a 1000 piece puzzle in one eight hour session. If you don’t find these busy tasks amusing, you may want to recruit some help, especially if you are making this dish for a large group. I find that children are great at this, and they usually love to help.
To ease your load the day of Thanksgiving, you can prepare much of this dish the day or two before. If you choose to do this, complete all of the steps below except for the final step of topping the dish with toasted bread crumbs and putting it in the oven. Then, those are the only tasks left for you the day of!
The recipe below makes enough for about six members of my family, because we all love it, but I would say it is enough to serve eight to ten. Don’t be afraid to make extra, because it is great left over. My sister even puts the creamed onions on her turkey sandwiches the next day!
Here are the ingredients you will need:
To peel the onions, blanch them in boiling water for about three minutes. Strain them and run them under cold water until they are cool enough to work with. Using a paring knife, trim the root end off, cut an X into the trimmed end, which will help free the skin, and then squeeze the onion out of the skin. Discard the skins and place the onions in a large bowl. Continue doing this until all onions are peeled.
In a large, heavy bottom pan, heat 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once it has melted, add the chopped yellow onion, thyme, and salt. Let the onion soften in the butter until it becomes translucent and sweet. Keep the heat low enough so that the onion doesn’t brown.
Once the onions are soft, make a roux by adding the flour. Let the flour cook through for about a minute until it becomes a light golden brown. Add the cream, milk, and nutmeg. Stir frequently so that the cream mixture may thicken without burning. Once the cream has started to thicken slightly, add the pearl onions. Cook for another ten minutes or so until the cream is thick enough to hold on to the onions and the back of a wooden spoon. It will continue to thicken as you bake it, so keep that in mind. Pour the contents of the pot into a large casserole dish.
To make the crunchy bread crumb topping, melt two tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and stir or toss frequently so that they may brown up without burning. Once they are golden brown, sprinkle them all over the top of the creamed onions.
Bake the onions at 350 degrees for an hour. Make sure you give them time to cool before you serve them. Enjoy and happy Thanksgiving!
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