Chef Thomas Keller’s Creamed Pearl Onions


Creamed Pearl Onions are a sensational side dish that brings elegance to the plate and they are easy to make. Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe is one the whole family will treasure!

Thomas Keller's Creamed Pearl Onions

Bon Apetit ran a terrific series on the last page of their magazine called Back Of the Napkin. Here you’d find a notable chef or celebrity, often times one and the same, sharing a recipe jotted down by their hand on a beverage napkin. The recipe usually accompanied a brief, casual interview. One in particular caught my eye from a chef whose cookbooks I own, but had not come across the recipe before—and what a gem of a recipe it turned out to be!

Chef Thomas Keller was the guest of this installment and the subject was Thanksgiving. Chef Keller extolled the ordinary virtues of his Thanksgiving claiming his dinner was no different than every day folk’s holiday meal. The exception was his mother’s creamed pearl onions recipe.

Recipe Clip from Bon Apetit

I’m an enormous fan of the genus allium, a plant species whose flavor rock stars include garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and all. When I read the recipe the main ingredient, pearl onions, took me back to yesteryear; to a time when my mother used this variety on occasion as an ingredient to a dish, but not the lead role. I knew I had to test drive this recipe.

Fast forward three years to this past Thanksgiving. The creamed pearl onions have been a welcome addition to our annual holiday fare since the recipe was spotted in the publication. This humble dish, with its handful of simple ingredients, transforms the parts into a sum of delectability that is nothing short of magical. The way the chicken stock reduces and concentrates, coaxing the petit onions into sweet tenderness, releasing cysteine sulfoxides—the compound that gives them their characteristic onion flavor. When the cream thickens, the onions are seasoned and then garnished with fresh minced chive; the interplay of flavors across the palate is not only splendid; it’s what cravings are made of. The dish is rich so a modest portion is plenty. I like to use it as a bumper food, a condiment much like cranberry sauce where you partially load the fork with the protein, dressing or mashed potatoes and bump it into the onions on the way up.

Creamed Pearl Onions Prep

I have made a single recipe and even tripled it with terrific results—just keep in mind the larger the onion quantity, the larger the sauce pot diameter should be accordingly; you want the onions to be covered by the stock. Peeling the onions can be a task especially if left to one person. Mrs. W and I have taken them on together; seated at the dining table, we slice the ends off, peel, talk and sip wine. You can also blanch the trimmed onions in boiling water for 90 seconds, strain them out and place them straight into an ice bath to stop the cooking. From there, pinch the onions individually; the skin pops right off. Makes quick work!


Chef Keller shared his beloved mother’s recipe and I share it now with you. Consider adopting it into your Holiday repertoire, or any time you want something with sophisticated impact, but without the fuss. Its uses are plentiful; case in point, the finished dish pictured herein was ladled atop a roasted meatloaf for Sunday supper. On a side note, Chef Keller is being inducted into the California Hall of Fame this evening by Governor Brown. Congratulations Chef and bon apetit!

Creamed Pearl Onions Recipe

Recipe by Thomas Keller’s Mother

Chef Thomas Keller’s Creamed Pearl Onions

Chef Thomas Keller’s Creamed Pearl Onions


  • 2 cups peeled pearl onions
  • 2 cups light chicken stock
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp. minced chives


  • Combine onions, stock, sugar and salt in a medium sauce pot (8" in diameter). Simmer until all liquid has evaporated and onions are tender. Add cream and cook until thickened. Stir in chives and season with salt and pepper.


  1. Brooks, I missed this one. My BA reading has been pretty spotty in recent years, after many years of never missing an issue. I hate to be “one of those people” who say things like this, but it’s not what it used to be! 😀 Anyway … this is marvelous, and I can see why it was the thing to bring you back to the blog. The last time I peeled pearl onions, I swore I’d never do it again, but perhaps I’ll try the blanching method. Because this is just the sort of thing one should have on one’s winter table!

    • Brooks Walker says

      I hear you Jean, and I mirror your thoughts regarding the difference between BA now and BA then. Sigh. And yes, yes, yes this dish is a must have in winter; it is savory at its finest!

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