I don’t like snails or toads or frogs
Or strange things living under logs
But, mmm mmm mmm, I love onions

Ahhh, memories of the sound of Susan Christie’s sensuous whisper accompanied by a honking kazoo. I loved the Sixties novelty song “I Love Onions”. Because, well, I love onions. Especially when they’re pickled.

Now I know what you’re saying. Don Day you usually write about Mexican food. Why would you write about pickled onions? Have you been drinking too many Gibsons?

Well, no. It’s because this week I was chided. And when one is chided, one must make amends. A while back, I wrote a blog about cochinita pibil but, in that blog, I did not even mention the traditional accompaniment to cochinita pibil. And that is onions. Pickled onions. Mexican style.

I was raised on pickled onions. They were traditionally consumed as a late night snack when I was a kid. Along with pickled beets, my mother served them with thick slices of white bread, topped with one of many brands of canned pork, with names like Kik or Kam or Spam, or that exotic Argentinean import, Hereford Brand Corned Beef.

My passion for tuberum stinkum declined somewhat when I left the family home but was reinvigorated when I was working a few too many miles from London in a little village in the middle of Middlesex. This charming hamlet had sheep in the meadow, thatch on the roofs, ducks on the pond and absolutely oozed quaintness but it did not have a real restaurant. It did, of course, have two pubs, each of which, in those days, only served one thing to eat at midday. 

At The Green Man, the dish was called ploughman’s lunch. It consisted of two pieces of white bread, a generous portion of cheddar cheese, a tablespoonful of Picalilli relish and two Laing’s pickled onions. In an amazing feat of British gastronomic ingenuity, at The Falcon Inn, the dish was called ploughman’s lunch. It consisted of two pieces of white bread, a not very generous portion of cheddar cheese, a boiled egg, a tablespoonful of Branston pickle and a single Crosse & Blackwell onion. I preferred drinking my lunch at The Green Man, mostly for that second onion, but also because that was where, on numerous occasions, I had sited the actor John Mills consuming his pickled onions.

These days, most of the time I consume a brand of German pickled onions, an act that probably would have been considered so unpatriotic that I might have had certain parts of my anatomy removed in my original British home. The brand is called Kuhne; they always seem to be on special; and they are the ultimate balance of sweet and sour except, of course, for Mexican pickled onions (you knew this blog was going to land in Mexico sooner or later).

Mexican pickled onions are not made with little white or yellow onions; they’re made with big, fat, cranberry red onions. Mexican pickled onions cannot be purchased in jars from supermarket shelves (entrepreneurs take note). In order to have Mexican pickled onions, one must either visit a restaurant (La Posadita has been my long time go to choice in San Miguel de Allende) possess culinary abilities, or, in the case of Don Day, marry well. 

What makes Mexican pickled onions better is they’re fresh. They haven’t spent weeks drowning in a jar of vinegar. They were made as recently as a few minutes ago. They crisp. They crunch. They make Don Day very happy.

Don Day’s Wife does indeed make Cebollas Curtidas a la Yucateca (so named because they’re pretty much a staple on every table in the Yucatan) and the last time she made them, to accompany cochinita pibil, in my role as investigative reporter, I observed and photographed the evidence.

What I noticed about making Mexican pickled onions is how simple it is, with no mason jars to sterilize or immerse until lids pop. I’ll bet even someone like me could make them.

Many chefs use Seville orange or other citrus juice instead of vinegar in their recipe. Others add a little allspice. Don Day’s Wife’s recipe originated in Rick Bayless book Authentic Mexican and her only variation is to include the teaspoon of sugar to “take away a little of the pucker” and to add a jalapeno pepper. 

Here are the details:

Pickled Onions, Mexican Style

Makes a little more than a cup which is enough to serve to four people eating Cochinita Pibil with a little left over to accompany a cheese sandwich (or almost anything else) the following day.

1 red onion, about four inches in diameter, sliced into 1/8 inch thick rings
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, ground (or use already ground pepper)
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground (or use cumin powder)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, peeled and loosely chopped into large chunks
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cider vinegar

Place the onion and salt in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, let cool and drain the onions (blanching removes some of the harshness from the taste).

Return the onions to the pan, along with all of the other ingredients, again add just enough water to cover, bring to a boil and simmer for three minutes. Pack them into a clean jar and cover with the liquid. Let cool and serve or refrigerate for up to three months.

I don’t like snails or toads or frogs
Or strange things living under logs
But, mmm mmm mmm, I love onions

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