Pickled Red Onions a la Yucateca


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 Onions 1
But 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 Onions 2
There are banana peppers in many stores in the DC-MD-VA area, but if you can’t find them, just substitute for Jalapeños. 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.

Pickled Red Onions a la Yucateca

Cebollas Encurtidas Yucatecas
2 cups
Pati Jinich
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: allspice, banana chiles, bitter orange juice, pickled red onions, Recipe, red onion, Vegetarian
Author:Pati Jinich
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
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.


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

To Prepare

  • 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.

52 comments on “Pickled Red Onions a la Yucateca

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  1. These are amazing and good with EVERYTHING! Made the Pollo Pabil~it was fab. My question is this: may I use the “vinegar juice/sauce” (for lack of a better term) again by adding more onion? The bay and banana peppers still look good!

  2. Everything you do is delicious thank you for sharing I’m Puertorican and my other half is Mexican your program help me very much god bless you

  3. I cannot have grapefruit in any form because it interacts with my medications, what can I use for a substitute?
    Thank you

    1. Hola Daniel, you can either leave the grapefruit out or try to find bitter orange juice for the original recipe. These days they sell it in every Latin / Hispanic Market and even in mainstream grocery stores like Shoppers and Safeway 🙂

  4. Dear Pati, I love your style and your recipes. I am franco/mexicain living in south west France and trying to initiate my neighbours to mexican cuisine.
    Acerca de las cebollas rojas en escabeche, tengo una pregunta. Se hacen al momento y se guardan 2 semanas en la nevera o se pueden hacer y esterilizar, congelar????

      1. I love Juevos rancheros but can’t find recipe for the ranchero sauce that goes over the eggs

  5. Are the bay leaves fresh or dry? If they are fresh should I use 1 dry? I Made it with orange, lime, lemon, & white vinegar & 2 dry bay leaves & it was a hit. Served with/on shrimp taco. Want to get it perfect next time. Picked up bitter orange juice a market for next try.

  6. Thank you Pati!
    My husband, who’s from Guadalajara looooves this “salsa” – & any of your other recipes I fix for him.

  7. Hi Pati…

    Oh my. I have made these with your substitute “juice” and found them delicious. But when I found Goya Bitter Orange juice at my local (sort of local) Los Altos Ranch market I had to try it. My, my, such a different flavor! Wow! I really like the bitter orange! The tartness of grapefruit (bit more I’d say), with the flavor of orange. Goodness all around. I’m down to my last bottle. Must get more.

    Thank you so much for this simple recipe, and your show. By the way, I made my last batch with Habanero peppers. Sort of a twist to what we say here in Phoenix: “But it’s a pleasant heat” 😀

  8. I recently saw your show with the pickled red onions and would like to make them. I am, however, unable to use grapefruit because it interferes with medication that I take. Can I substitute more of the orange or lime for it? I don’t want to add more vinegar as it might be too intense. What do you suggest?

  9. Just so everyone knows, if you want to “make” bitter orange juice using Pati’s recipe, a double batch (=1/2 Cup each juice) is essentially the combination of the juice of-
    1 Grapefruit, 2 Valencia Oranges, 4 Limes and 1/2 Cup of Dist. White Vinegar.

    Mine are pickling now. I hope their as good as the one’s I had on Isla Mujeres.

    Thanks for the recipe Pati.

      1. Thanks Pati,
        The pickled onions came out great. The closest I’ve had to the ones in the Yucatan! The White Vinegar is a little intense. Any other type of vinegar you’d recommend? I was thinking of white balsamic.

  10. Hi Pati, Thank you for all the recipes and stories. I greatly enjoy your show and blog. I am searching for a recipe for the Mexican pickled carrot slices served a many Mexican restaurants in the San Diego area. There are sliced small green chilies and sometimes onion slices in the mix.too. I’ve tried many times to reproduce them at home; so far no luck! I will try the pickled red onion recipe with carrots instead of all onions and see how that works, but any more traditional recipe would sure be helpful. Ann S.

  11. I saw you for the first time the other day on tv and saw you make the flourless almond torte. I fell in love with it.Since then, I can not stop looking at all your wonderful mouthwatering recipes .
    Most of all , I love, love, love the stories you tell with them.
    Thank you soooooooo very much. May you always find love and joy in your cooking. PLEASE continue to share with us all.

  12. Pati,
    As a Mexican-American and having lived since the age of 5(many, many years) in New England, I have spent a lot of years looking for authentic Mexican cooking and recipes. Thanks for your recipes. I too love your show on PBS. I love it that you show so much deserved joy about the food. And I love the pickled red onions and pickled jalapenos and habanero salsa (sorry I can’t use the ~n in the message), as well as all the other wonderful recipes. I look forward to seeing many more of your shows. Best wishes and thanks.

  13. Hola Pati,
    Me a Mexican in San Diego. I discovered your tv show on our local PBS station by accident and loved it. So proud of a show like yours…As a mexican born with the U.S. Border (Tijuana), you bring those authentic “mom” old recipes home. Gracias…PS My mother is from Sinaloa and RED ONION was a thing for me when grew up with…But Paty, I will try your recipe..looks delicious. Bravo y mas excito!!!

  14. Pati,
    I had to write to tell you how delicious these pickled onions are– they are the best pickled onions I have ever had. Period. Anywhere. And I know onions. I made them last night to serve with cochinita pibil tonight, and even though I am stuffed to the gills, I cannot stop eating these onions. Thanks so much– this is my first visit to your blog and you are now bookmarked under “Awesome Food Blogs.” Congratulations on your successes and may you have many more.

    1. Erin,
      I am so glad you liked them. And thank you so much for your comments, you made me laugh! I also love them with Cochinita Pibil, no better match ; )

  15. Hi Pati,
    Question. I have been looking for a comal, and have ordered one online. I was disappointed when it arrived. It has a very rough texture on the surface of the comal and when reading the other internet sites, they also describe their product (comals) as “rough”. Aren’t there any smooth textured comals out there????

    1. Hi Kathryn,
      Don’t worry. Yes, the texture if you run over it with your hands is rough. The only ones that are smooth are the non-stick/teflon modern ones. If your comal is rough, that is a good thing! It will season with time as you use it. What you cook in it may stick a bit for the first couple times, but the more you use it the more it will “soften” and naturally become non-stick. It will grow on you, you will see!

    1. Hi Mike. I am so glad you like it! Thank you. The Spanish for bitter orange is “naranja agria” if you can’t find it, you can substitute it for 1/4 each grapefruit juice, orange juice, lime juice and white distilled vinegar. You can read a bit more about it in the ingredients section, where I also posted a photo, so you can see how it looks… let me know if you have any other questions.

    1. Hi Tino, Allspice in Mexico is “pimienta gorda”, look in the spice sections in the grocery stores or in the open markets. Let me know if you find it under that name… Sometimes it comes whole, and you just need to crush it…

  16. Just in time!! I’m going to make turkey pibil tomorrow (can’t make it today because when I brought home my first fresh turkey it didn’t smell fresh). So I hope to marinade turkey #2 today and cook tomorrow and eat with these yummy pickled red onions. I love these pickled delights!!!
    Thanks so much for the recipe!!