Portuguese Onions, Chestnuts, and Bacon

These sauteed onions, chestnuts, and bacon take their deeply earthy, nutty, yet sweetly caramelized overtones from simple ingredients and easy techniques. Nothing fussy yet tastes fancy.

A grey ceramic bowl filled with Portuguese onions, chestnuts, and bacon, topped with an Italian parsley garnish.

Your first thought when you saw a side dish of sauteed onions, chestnuts, and bacon was Thanksgiving, right? Well, the Portuguese don’t celebrate the holiday, but they do grow plenty of chestnuts. When something is as vital to the local economy as chestnuts are to the Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro region, people find plenty of ways to cook and eat it throughout the year. While living in Portugal, I had chestnuts in soups, bread, and dessert, but I’d never had them tossed with onions and bacon, as they are in this dish adapted from a recipe by chef Michel da Costa. It makes sense. The nuts are an excellent foil for the saltiness of the bacon and the caramel sweetness of the onions. Not surprisingly, it makes for a crowd-pleasing Thanksgiving side dish and will be on our table this year. Again.–David Leite

What kind of chestnuts should I buy?

This recipe calls for cooked chestnuts, which you can easily find at the store in a jar or vacuum-packed bag each fall and, increasingly, any time of year. If you have the luxury of choosing between jarred and vacuum-packed chestnuts, pick the jarred. Fewer broken casualties that way.

Video: How to Make Portuguese Onions, Chestnuts, and Bacon
Video courtesy of WTNH

Portuguese Onions, Chestnuts, and Bacon

  • Quick Glance
  • (2)
  • 25 M
  • 30 M
  • Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish
5/5 - 2 reviews
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Ingredients

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Directions

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, cook the bacon, stirring often, until the fat has rendered and the bacon starts to crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Place the bacon on paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile, fill a bowl halfway with ice and water. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Drop in the onions and blanch for 30 seconds. Scoop out the onions with a slotted spoon and plop them in the ice water. Peel the onions by snipping off the tip and removing the papery outer layers. Pat the onions dry.

Increase the heat under the skillet to medium, toss in the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally in the bacon fat, until tender and spotted with brown, about 10 minutes. 

Add the bacon, chestnuts, and honey and gently toss to warm through, being careful not to break up the fragile chestnuts. Season with salt and plenty of pepper and then scoop everything into a serving bowl. If desired, sprinkle with parsley. Originally published November 15, 2010.

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Recipe Testers Reviews

The title of this recipe is enough to make me smile. Just think about the ingredients—pearl onions, chestnuts, and bacon. You can envision how beautiful this recipe is even before you make it.

I have many kinds of honey and opted for chestnut honey in this dish. As you can imagine, it became luscious and sticky and gooey, just like I'd hoped it would. The onions remained a bit crunchy, which is exactly how I like them, and nicely complemented the mealy, earthy chestnuts. But the bacon plays an integral role, adding the salty savory element. First you sauté it, remove it from the pan, then sauté the onions and chestnuts in the drippings, then add honey to it all, and finally add the bacon back to its rightful place. Does that not sound fabulous?

Parsley is added at the end for color, but I personally thought it detracted slightly from everything else. (But then,the parsley in my garden is quite...well...powerful.) When I make this next, I'll use fresh thyme rather than parsley, as it's earthy and would go so nicely with the flavor profile.

This candy-like yet very savory dish says Thanksgiving and Christmas. It would be the highlight of any meal. I love that it's different than usual. But if I were to make it for a holiday, I would have to keep it warm in the back corner of the dark oven so when the guests are doing the dishes I could excuse myself and feast on it unhindered.

This side dish tasted wonderful and felt very festive. The chestnuts made it feel like a holiday dish. We all liked the flavors, and they really complemented each other.

The ratio of onions to chestnuts was perfect. The honey didn't make this sweet, but added a necessary counter to the deep flavor of onions, bacon, and chestnut. In fact, I think the honey is so important to the dish, the flavor palette would be very different without it. A different and delicious side dish!

Using previously roasted chestnuts made this a quick side dish. I used chestnuts from a vacuum-sealed pack, which really sped up the prep. Also, I used fresh onions, but if frozen pearl onions work in this dish, it would be worth noting, as preparing the onions took most of the prep time.

Thanksgiving is usually incredibly hectic at my house, and this recipe is quick, beautiful, and filling. It’s even quicker if you buy frozen pearl onions and skip step 2 altogether. The honey really rounds out all the flavors and the parsley lends a bright freshness.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the texture of pre-peeled-and-roasted chestnuts—they’re nothing like the hot nuggets of salty goodness from European road-side vendors. But if you're a lover of chestnuts, this is the perfect side dish for you.

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Comments

  1. This is a great side dish for any time of year! The sweet and savoury combination works so wonderfully together. It’s perfect as a Thanksgiving side for turkey, ham or chicken. It is also ideal with something less traditional; grilled steak and roasted broccoli was my go-to. However, it is versatile enough to be great with game birds, salmon or pork chops. I followed the recipe, using pancetta as my bacon, red pearl onions and chestnut honey. The chestnut honey added an additional earthy sweetness which brought the other ingredients to a sublime level of deliciousness!

  2. David, I am in a small town in Vermont and found fresh chestnuts in the market but had to order a jar of the roasted chestnuts. What would happen if I did buy the fresh chestnuts and roasted them? Why are the jarred or vacuum packed ones better? I usually think fresh ingredients are better than processed. I am planning to make this dish for the Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club pot luck based on your book that will take place next Sunday. I hear you were invited.

    1. Bhakti, there is absolutely nothing wrong with fresh chestnuts! Fresh ingredients are always best. I called for jarred or vacuum packed because most people can’t get their hands on fresh. But if you can find them, and roast them well, I’m sure it will fantastic.

      And I was so kindly invited to your cookbook club, but, sadly, I can’t make it. Send me some pictures!

  3. David, I heard you on Martha Stewart radio, and you described this recipe. It sounds phenomenal! I found a beautiful package of mixed small onions (including red, yellow and white). I am going from NY to NC for Thanksgiving and was wondering if I can make this in advance. Maybe hold off on the chestnuts until last minute?

    1. Sandy, you can most certainly make this in advance by searing the bacon and onions. Ten minutes before serving, combine the cooked bacon, cooked onions, and chestnuts. Drizzle in the honey and heat through.

    1. Sissy–so good to hear from you. (Folks, if you don’t know Sissy Biggers, well you should. She is a lifestyle expert, cooking show host, TV personality, and oh, so-much-more.)

      I prefer the jarred chestnuts, but if you see a lovely vacuumed-packed bag without cracked or broken nuts, that will work. They’re a bit delicate, so you want to stir them until just heated through. Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. Thanks, Lora. Much appreciated. If you make the recipe make sure that you buy smallish onions. The ones I used on the show were a bit large–they were all I could find in the market at that time.

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