November 12, 2011

Creamed Pearl Onion Gratin ~ a Thanksgiving favorite at our house


I love to hear what foods are Thanksgiving traditions for different families.  There are so many wonderfully decadent dishes that are staples on our Thanksgiving menus!  For our family, some form of an onion dish has always graced our Thanksgiving table.  And I must say, aside from stuffing (that's my absolute favorite), the onion dish is the one I look forward to most.

In recent years ... say, for the last six years or so ... this Creamed Pearl Onion Gratin has become our traditional Thanksgiving onion dish.  And man, is it delicious!!  I'm so glad my Mom decided to give this recipe a chance on the Thanksgiving menu.  She's made it ever since it's debut.

The only sort of 'troublesome' part of this recipe for us was the peeling of the pearl onions.  See, for us, one 'batch' of this recipe, which calls for 10 ounces of fresh pearl onions, was absolutely not enough.  We had to (at least!) triple the recipe ... which left Mom and I peeling at least 30 ounces of pearl onions on Thanksgiving morning.  Not a real fun job.  Which meant that job usually fell to me.  See, for Thanksgiving dinner, Mom is the head chef.  I'm the sous chef.  You know what that means.  (Sidenote: Though I think Mom is gradually trying to sneakily transfer her Thanksgiving head chef duties to me.  I'm not being real cooperative with that.)

Given the un-fun onion peeling task, I decided it was worth giving this dish a test run using frozen pearl onions.  Yes, peeling the onions is that much of a pain for us that we were willing to consider forgoing fresh onions.  So, last week I did a pre-Thanksgiving trial run with frozen little pearls.

Guess what?  It worked!!  Beautifully.  And soooooo much easier! 

Now, I'm not saying to give up on fresh pearl onions ... they are absolutely delicious.  And if you don't mind peeling little baby onions, or have just tons of help in the kitchen, then go for it!  I'm just saying that, now, we have options.  I love options.

So how do you make this creamy cheesey onion yumminess, you say?  Well, I'm so glad you asked!  'Cause I'm all prepared to show you.

Start by making a basic white sauce.  Melt butter in a saucepan and then whisk in some flour until it's thick and smooth.  This will be the thickener, and will produce a nice creamy-textured sauce for the onions.

Base of the white sauce

Next, gradually whisk in half-and-half  and cook until thick.  Then stir in some grated white cheddar cheese.  Being originally from Vermont, I (of course!) use Cabot sharp cheddar.  (Another sidenote:  If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that I firmly stand by Vermont maple syrup and Vermont cheddar cheese from Cabot Creamery!  Prior to these products being readily available in North Carolina, I used to have them shipped to me.  And no, Vermont and Cabot do not pay me to say these things!  Now back to onions ...)

Doesn't that white sauce look gorgeous??  I know, I may get just a tiny bit too excited about food.  Oh well, there are worse things in life.

Voila!  White sauce.

Now add in your pearl onions and stir 'em around 'til they're all beautifully coated in gorgeous-and-creamy white sauce.

Yummy pearl onions coated in white cheddar white sauce

Transfer the onion mixture to a baking dish and top it with additional white cheddar cheese and fresh bread crumbs spiked with fresh thyme.  While I will substitute frozen onions for fresh, I don't recommend skipping fresh bread crumbs and fresh thyme.  I'll stay true to the fresh on those.

Fresh bread crumbs with fresh thyme

Bake it up until the onion mixture is nice and bubbly and the top is golden brown.
Baked and beautiful

Then dig in and enjoy.  Yum.  Our Thanksgiving table just wouldn't be complete without this!

I'd love to hear what you just can't live without on Thanksgiving.  Leave me a comment about your faves!


Creamed Pearl Onion Gratin
Source:  Adapted from Southern Living
Creamed Onions:
10-12 oz. package fresh pearl onions OR 16 oz. package frozen pearl onions
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 1/4 c. half-and-half
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground mustard
Dash of ground nutmeg
1 1/2 c. (6 oz.) shredded white cheddar cheese, divided  (I use Cabot sharp cheddar)

Crumb Topping:
4 T. butter, melted
1 1/4 c. fresh breadcrumbs (about 3 slices of bread; I use whole wheat)
1 or 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

For the Creamed Onions:  
1.  If using fresh onions, peel onions and place in a saucepan; add water to cover.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 6 to 8 minutes or until onions are just tender.  If using frozen onions, thaw; heat in the microwave or simmer on the stovetop for 3 to 4 minutes until onions are just tender.  Drain well.  Set aside.

2.  Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; add flour, stirring until smooth.  Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Gradually add half-and-half; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  

3.  Add salt, pepper, ground mustard, and nutmeg.  Add 1 cup of the shredded cheddar cheese; stir until cheese melts.  Gently stir in drained onions.

4.  Pour onion mixture into a lightly greased 1-quart baking dish.  Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese.

For the Crumb Topping:  
5.  Combine breadcrumbs and chopped thyme.  Toss breadcrumbs with the 4 tablespoons of melted butter until crumbs are well coated.  Sprinkle evenly over onion mixture.

6.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until thoroughly heated through and the top is golden.



  1. I could not imagine peeling all those onions. Glad the frozen ones worked for you.

  2. OMG I love onions, and this looks so good!

  3. I know tons of people for whom the holidays are the not the holidays without pearl onions... what a great dish!

    And from the farm families who own Cabot, thanks so much for including us in your recipe. We all appreciate the support!

    Regan Jones
    Cabot Creamery

  4. P.S. If you like to use fresh pearl onions, par-boil them about 2 minutes. Drain and plunge them into ice water to stop them from cooking. Drain again. Cut off the root end and they will pop right out of their papery later!


  5. Thanks for sharing your holiday traditions. This is a great recipe and beautiful image!

    Viva La Onions,
    Kim Reddin aka the Onionista
    National Onion Association

  6. Kim (aka 'Onionista') - Thanks so much for the onion peeling tip!!

  7. Yum, yum, yum!! I am so excited to find this recipe. My grandmother always used to serve pearl onions, but I haven't had them in YEARS! I can't wait to try this. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Stopping by from the Chef in Training link-up.
    Jaymie @

  8. nice tutorial on how to make it! like the name of your blog!

  9. I really like your blog. I am your newest follower!! I am new to blogger, but am excited to share my New boutique that is coming soon with the latest trends on clothing at affordable prices. I also will be selling Mineral Makeup. I will be giving a lot of free giveaways here shortly for our grand opening! I hope you will stop by my blog and follow me back and like my facebook... And Look out for free giveaways on makeup and clothing :)

    -B. Haven

  10. Oh my - I would LOVE this! Pinning for later.


  11. This looks delicious! I would love if you shared this in my vegetable recipes Blog Hop. Enter it for a chance at a Starbucks prize package!

  12. Oh my. I love pearl onions and your gratin looks scrumptious! I gotta bookmark your recipe and try it soon. Thanks for sharing. I wish you and your family a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving.

  13. Oh my stars girl does this ever look good. I love onions and so does my husband. He'd go nuts over this. Yummy!!!

    Hey B.Haven Boutique....Sorry but I think I win the prize here girl. I JUST started my very first blog. So I think I'm the newest blogger on comments. Playground girl you have a WONDERFUL blog. So glad I found it.

  14. My husband's family hosts Thanksgiving every year. I have been a part of the family for the last 13 years, and that is when I discovered this exact dish at their table...I look forward to it every year now and believe it also my favorite!!! It is so, so good!!!!

  15. Oh yum! This is perfect:) I am seriously loving your post! It is so informative and I think my subscribers would really enjoy reading this. I would love for you to come share it at Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways on Frugally Sustainable ( I really hope that you will put Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways on your list of carnivals to visit and link to each Wednesday!

    Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable
    Here's the link:

  16. This is one of the best recipes I have ever tried! The family went nuts over it! Thank you!

    1. I'm soooo glad you and your family enjoyed this!! It remains one of my family's absolute favorites, too! Thank you so much for stopping by to let me know that you loved it. :-)


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