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.
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.
Portuguese Onions, Chestnuts, and Bacon
- 1/2 pound thick-sliced slab bacon cut crosswise into 1/4-inch (6-mm) chunks
- 1 pound pearl onions (a scant 1 inch [25-mm] in diameter)
- 1 pound peeled and roasted chestnuts (from a jar or vacuum-sealed pack)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- A few springs flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)
- 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.
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.
Originally published November 15, 2020