A seasonal treat for fans of spicy, tangy, crunchy pickles. You could use small pickling onions for this recipe, although shallots have a better flavour and look nicer in the jar. Peeling them is an awful chore but it’s worth the effort, as you can’t buy anything remotely as good as this in a supermarket.
1.5kg small shallots
2 litres of water
1 litre cider vinegar
100g brown sugar
10 whole dried chillies
1 tbsp mustard seeds
10 whole allspice berries
2 tsp whole black peppercorns
Peel the shallots. I prefer to trim the bottom end and peel away the dry skin along with the outer layer of shallot, as that part is often a bit tough or damaged. However you do it, it’s the most monstrously tedious kitchen task imaginable, and it will take ages. At least shallots are less potent than onions, so they’re unlikely to induce many tears. Did you know that wearing contact lenses stops you crying when peeling onions? Not much use if you’ve got good eyesight, though.
Put the shallots in a large pan with the salt and water. Weigh them down with a plate, so they stay underwater, put a lid on it (because it will smell) and leave it alone for 24 hours.
The next day, drain the shallots but don’t rinse them. Heat the vinegar to simmering point, dissolve the sugar in it and add the chillies and spices. Keep it fairly hot (but definitely not boiling) for about 10 minutes, while you sterilise some jars.
To sterilise clean jars, put them upside down in a cold oven. Turn the heat to around 120C, leave them until the oven comes up to temperature, then turn it off. Remove the hot jars carefully just before you’re about to fill them. Sterilise the lids and rubber seals by pouring boiling water over them.
Pack the shallots as tightly as possible into the jars. You probably won’t need as many jars as you think – I prepared six jars for this batch but only managed to fill the three in the picture above. Pour in the hot vinegar so the shallots are covered, and distribute the chillies and spices among the jars. Put the lids on and leave them for a few weeks. They’ll improve greatly over time but can be eaten after about a fortnight if you’re impatient.