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Creamed pearl onions make a classic side dish for the holidays or your next dinner party. Our version is pleasantly rich but not unnecessarily so. Easy, make-ahead friendly recipe.

creamed pearl onions in a baking dish
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Why we love this recipe

These creamed onions are a classic family recipe. In my mind at least, they’re one of the only things in the whole world that my grandfather ever asked for. I love them so much for that reason, but also for their beautiful, comforting simplicity that perfectly complements a wide variety of meals.

They’re:

  • Creamy and velvety
  • Savory, with a hint of sweetness from the onions themselves
  • Rich but not too rich
  • An amenable companion to other traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes, as well as virtually any roast you’d serve at a dinner party

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance a the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • For this recipe, start with fresh pearl onions that are on the larger side — about an inch in diameter. Save the petite frozen ones for stew. If you’re curious about pearl onions, you can learn more about them here.
  • Choose a good-quality, freshly grated parmesan cheese. It gets stirred into the sauce and also sprinkled on top, and it adds a ton of savoriness to this simply flavored dish.
  • Use whole milk to make a sauce that’s velvety but not overly rich.
  • A little bit of all-purpose flour thickens the sauce. To make this recipe gluten-free, substitute your favorite 1:1 GF baking blend or all-purpose GF blend, whichever you have on hand.

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make a beautiful pan of creamed pearl onions. You can see the easy steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. First you’ll prep the onions. The easiest way to peel them is to give them a quick dip in boiling water and then in ice water. Then slice off the root end and gently squeeze. The onion will slip out of its skin fairly easily. Once the onions are peeled, boil them in salted water until tender. For 1-inch onions, this takes about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Make the sauce. Melt the butter, whisk in the flour, and then whisk in the milk, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Then turn down the heat and simmer until thickened. Stir in 2/3 of the cheese.
  3. Drain the onions and place in a baking dish that’s safe for broiling. Pour the sauce overtop and smooth with a spatula, letting it fill any gaps. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  4. Broil until browned and bubbly. Sprinkle with minced parsley or chives if you like, and serve.

Expert tips and FAQs

What other flavors can I add?

This old family recipe is super-simple, and it’s really beautiful just the way it is. But you can add other flavors to the béchamel sauce if you like, to gently amp things up. Try:

1/8 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and cayenne
2 minced garlic cloves (add with the butter)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme, sage, and/or rosemary
Extra-sharp cheddar, or smoked gouda, in addition to or instead of some of the parmesan

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

Yes! One of the great things about adding creamed pearl onions to your holiday table is that they’re totally make-ahead friendly. You can make the entire dish in advance, including broiling, and tuck it into the oven at whatever temperature you’ve already got going, covered with foil, to reheat. Or you can prep in advance and broil right before serving.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat in the oven or microwave.

creamed pearl onions in a baking dish

How to serve it

Creamed onions are a favorite at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but they also go well with lots of other dinner party classics. Try them alongside:

More classic holiday sides

creamed pearl onions on a plate

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creamed pearl onions in a baking dish
4.62 from 13 votes

Creamed Pearl Onions

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Creamed pearl onions make a classic side dish for the holidays or your next dinner party. Our version is pleasantly rich but not unnecessarily so. Easy, make-ahead friendly recipe.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Total: 1 hour
Servings: 12
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Ingredients 

  • 1 pound (454 grams) pearl onions
  • 4 tablespoons (56 grams) butter
  • 4 tablespoons (30 grams) flour
  • 2 cups (475 ml) whole milk
  • ¾ cup (60 grams) grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or chives to garnish, optional

Instructions 

  • To peel the onions, fill a large pot halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Fill a large mixing bowl halfway with ice water. Place the whole onions into the boiling water and cook for two minutes. Transfer to ice water to cool. Then cut off the root end of each onion and squeeze gently. Onion will slip fairly easily out of its skin. You can do this up to a few days in advance and store peeled onions in an airtight container in the fridge.
  • To boil the onions, fill the same pot halfway with fresh water, and salt it generously. Bring to a boil, then add the onions and cook until tender. For 1-inch-diameter onions, this takes about 10-15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile melt the butter in a medium pot over medium-high heat.
  • Whisk in the flour and cook for one minute.
  • Add the milk, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Then turn down the heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  • Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese.
  • Drain the onions well and place into a baking dish that’s safe for broiling.
  • Pour the sauce overtop and smooth with a spatula, letting it fill any gaps. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  • Broil until browned and bubbly. Sprinkle with minced parsley or chives if you like, and serve.

Notes

  1. For this recipe, start with fresh pearl onions that are on the larger side — about an inch in diameter. Save the petite frozen ones for stew.
  2. To make this recipe gluten-free, substitute your favorite 1:1 GF baking blend or all-purpose GF blend, whichever you have on hand.
  3. This old family recipe is super-simple, and it’s really beautiful just the way it is. But you can add other flavors to the béchamel sauce if you like, to gently amp things up. Try: 1/8 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and cayenne // 2 minced garlic cloves (add with the butter) // 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme, sage, and/or rosemary // Extra-sharp cheddar, or smoked gouda, in addition to or instead of some of the parmesan
  4. One of the great things about adding creamed pearl onions to your holiday table is that they’re totally make-ahead friendly. You can make the entire dish in advance, including broiling, and tuck it into the oven at whatever temperature you’ve already got going, covered with foil, to reheat. Or you can prep in advance and broil right before serving.
  5. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat in the oven or microwave.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 25kcal, Carbohydrates: 3g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 4mg, Sodium: 113mg, Sugar: 2g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Sides
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.62 from 13 votes (13 ratings without comment)

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