Quick pickled red onions Mexican style. Friends don’t let friends eat Mexican food without Mexican pickled onions! Tart, sweet, a little heat and a whole lot of personality. Pickled red onions are a great topping for tacos, burritos, enchiladas or even a burger. Ready in just 30 minutes, let’s take a look.
This recipe was first published December 2010 and updated November 2020.
About This Recipe
The first time I had Mexican pickled onions was as a topping for fish tacos at a local, now sadly defunct Denver restaurant, Chama. Created by my favorite local restauranteur and Chef, Sean Yontz.
I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. His fish tacos topped with these beautiful onions were a revelation for my taste buds.
This is my third attempt to duplicate Yontz’s recipe. When I inquired about the ingredients at the restaurant the only information I received was he made pickled red onions with a dried chile pepper.
Combining ingredients from several versions I found on the Internet and using that pepper, I’m very confident I’ve finally captured the flavors I enjoyed for Mexican pickled onions at his restaurant.
Quick Mexican Pickled Onions for Tacos: Pickled red onions are traditionally served with and a superb addition for tacos.
Tart and sweet, add a hot bite from the onions, some heat from a dried red pepper and these onions bring the Fiesta to any Mexican meal.
So easy and with so much impact. You’ll simply not believe that you’ve never made them before.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Mise en place. Always gather ingredients before starting any recipe. It will save you time and organize your mind.
- Sugar: The sweetness will balance the tart and sour flavor of the vinegar.
- White Vinegar: White vinegar is the most versatile of vinegars. It brings acidity and a tart flavor to this pickled red onion recipe.
- Red Onion: Sweetness is the red onion’s claim to fame. It’s sharp in flavor, and has a higher sugar content that other onions. Plus, we want that red color to add to the vibrance of the finished product.
- Allspice Berries: Allspice is the dried berry of the tropical Pimenta dioica tree native to the West Indies and Central America. Its flavor is a combination of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It brings beautiful aromatics to the finished dish.
- Whole Cloves: Strong, pungent, sweet and almost hot, cloves bring a penetrating flavor to these Mexican pickled red onions.
- Bay Leaf: When bay leaves are infused into water, it brings a minty flavor to the party. Some describe the flavor reminiscent of Christmas tree pine.
- Dried Chile Pepper: Deep red, a dried chile pepper will add color, spice and a pleasant earthy flavor to these onions. And depending on what chile pepper you choose, will dictate the level of heat to the recipe.
Bring these all together and you’ve got a wonderful flavor combination.
Step by Step Instructions
Could it get any easier?
- Slice the red onions. You can slice them into full rings or half moon shapes if you want smaller pieces. Use a sharp knife or even a mandolin. 1/8 inch slices are ideal for that perfect slight crunch.
- Break off the top of the chile pepper pod and empty out the seeds.
- Simmer the pickling mixture. In a small non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile pepper until boiling.
- Add the onion slices and lower heat, then simmer for 30 seconds, stirring to make sure all of the onions get coated with flavor.
- Remove from heat and let the mixture cool completely. I set the timer for 30 minutes to cool and let the flavors marry.
- Store or Serve: You can either use the quick pickled onions immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
FAQ’s And Tips
Cover and refrigerate leftover pickled red onions. They’ll keep for month.
I have been trained and by habit have always used white vinegar for any pickling project. You most certainly can substitute cider vinegar or even red wine vinegar for this recipe. It simply will bring a little more sweetness to the overall flavor.
The type of dried chile pepper you choose will dictate how spicy the pickled red onions are. A Guajillo pepper, which are readily available in markets is a very mild pepper. An ancho pepper (dried poblano) will bring medium heat. Look for dried pasilla peppers for more heat. And sprinkling in a few red pepper flakes will warm things up nicely.
No, this recipe is for quick pickled refrigerator onions and not designed for a water bath method. Take a look at this recipe for canned pickled red onions.
The quick pickling process transforms red onions into a culinary delight.
I hope you give this quick Mexican pickled onions recipe a try. And if you do, please come back and give the recipe a star rating and leave a comment about your experience with the recipe.
And if you’re looking for more pickling recipes, don’t miss my family recipe for Pickled Beets, and Quick Spicy Pickles Made From Store Bought Dills. Both of these recipes are two of the most popular on my site. And don’t miss this one for pickled pineapple. It elevates pork tenderloin over the top.
What To Do with Mexican Pickled Onions
Once you get in the habit of keeping a jar of these pickled onions in the refrigerator, you’ve got a fiesta at your fingertips.
- Enchilada Burritos. Mexican Pickled Onions are a perfect topping for these earthy flavored beef and bean burritos.
- Saucy Chicken Soft Tacos. Pickled red onions are a great topping for this tomato sauce version of soft chicken tacos.
- Adobo Grilled Shrimp Tostadas, Seafood tostadas are begging for these onions.
- Next time you make a big pot of beans, like this recipe for Cowboy Beans, don’t forget a topping of these onions. It’s crazy delicious.
- Sprinkle them over Carnitas Tacos. I think my favorite taco is pulled pork carnitas. Sprinkle a couple of pickled red onions over your tender carnitas for an exciting sweet salty flavor combination.
- Don’t forget about burgers. Try them on these Jalapeno Steak Sauce Burgers.
30 Minute Mexican Pickled Onions
- 3/4 Cup white vinegar or apple cider or red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 allspice berries
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 small dried New Mexico Chile pepper Guajillo works good here
- 1 large red onion peeled, and thinly sliced into rings
- In a small non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile until boiling.
- Add the onion slices and lower heat, then simmer for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let sit and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the onions and the liquid into a covered container and refrigerate. These should keep for about a month in the refrigerator.
Mexican Pickled Onions ….They’re What’s for a Mexican Dinner.