December 25, 2009 10:59 AM
Pickled Red Onions a la Yucateca

As promised, and right before the year ends, here is a recipe for pickled red onions or cebollas encurtidas or en escabeche, so you can try them with Pollo Pibil. Please do! You will see why it's no wonder pickled red onion has been Pibil's faithful and enlightened companion for centuries: they both taste great separately, but blissful when paired together.

Pickled red onions are also a permanent fixture at every single table in Yucatan. As they are mildly spicy, deliciously tangy and surprisingly crunchy they go well with so many things. These past couple weeks I learned first hand why they are such a fabulous pickle to have handy. 

Since one of its main ingredients, the bitter orange, is hard to come by around here, I had 16 takes with different bitter orange substitutes. There are well-known versions for substitutes, but I am not crazy about any of them. 16 pickled red onion batches later: I found one I love! It is equal parts grapefruit, orange, lime juice and white distilled vinegar. Without the vinegar it's not acid enough and the pickle loses its color and crunch, it faints quickly. 

Pickled Red Onion 2.jpgBut since I am not one to throw away tasty things, those 16 batches found their way into toasted sandwiches, on top of rice and cous cous, along tacos and quesadillas, as a capricious side to enchiladas and scrambled eggs in the morning, sprinkled on refried beans. The last batch, which was destined to complement broiled flank steak a couple nights ago was gone before I finished slicing the meat.

And you will like this: takes 10 minutes to make them and they last weeks in your refrigerator. Just mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl, slice the onions (which some cooks like to quickly blanche in hot water or desflemar before pickling, I don't because the onion loses that strength that I like, but you can try...), then add one, or why not two, charred banana peppers, let it all sit and get comfortable together, and you are set.

Pickled Red Onion 3.jpg
There are banana peppers in many stores in the DC-MD-VA area, but if you can't find them, just substitute for JalapeƱos. They work great as well.

The pickled red onions will be sitting in your refrigerator ready to give a spin to almost anything you may put together, no matter how fast or slow, simple or complicated. I am always amazed at how accommodating salsas and pickles can be.

So for this 2010, aside for hoping you all have a wholesome and sweet year, I hope you can always have a tasty pickled side handy to give you a bit of a spunk, whenever you need one. It has worked for me at times when I have needed some. And when I really need a kick, I leave the pickled onions aside and give that pickled pepper a big bite.

Pollo Pibil 2.jpg
bitter orange juice(or substitute: 1/4 cup each grapefruit juice, orange juice, lime juice and white distilled vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground
1/4 teaspoon allspice, or pimienta gorda, ground
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, or more to taste (I add more... but I am keen on salt)
1 large red onion, or 2 cups, thinly sliced (cortada en pluma)
1 banana pepper, guero or x'catik, roasted, broiled or charred (may substitute for JalapeƱo)
2 bay leaves

Place the bitter orange (or its substitute or plain vinegar) in a mixing bowl along with the black pepper, allspice and salt. Mix well. Incorporate the red onions and bay leaves.

Char or broil the banana pepper in the broiler, on the grill, on a hot comal or dry skillet set over medium heat or directly on an open flame, for 3 to 6 minutes. Turn it once or twice, until its skin has lightly charred. Incorporate to the onion mix.

Toss well and let the mix pickle at room temperature anywhere from 1/2 hour to 2 hours, cover and refrigerate. It will keep in the refrigerator in great shape for 2 weeks.