Escabeche is the story of preservation, both the Mayan preservation of the summer’s bounty for the coming cold months as well as sustaining civilization itself. Without refrigeration, the only way to have many just harvested foods not rot and be available throughout the year was to pickle, preserve, ferment, marinate, dry and salt them. The story of escabeche in Mexico actually begins in Persia.
The Moors brought the dish and technique called Sikbaj (vinegar stew) with them during their 800 year occupation of Spain. Made mostly with lamb stewed in vinegar and spices, no banquet in the Middle Ages would be without it. Like many other foods and techniques the Spanish conquistadors introduced to Mexico, preserving foods and wines to make vinegar was quickly adopted to the summer’s bounty of vegetables. Vegetable escabeche became essential to agricultural based societies like the Mayans, especially in the tropical climate of the Yucatan Peninsula. Escabeche, once an essential contributor to survival, still lives on in cebollas en escabeche, a great condiment for tacos, stews, and grilled meats.
Cebollas Rojas en Escabeche – Pickled Red Onions
- Medium saucepan
- Medium bowl
- Pint jar with lid
- 2 medium Red onion
- 4 cups Water
- 2 Bay Leaf
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano
- ¼ tsp Ground allspice (2-3 if whole)
- ¼ tsp Black pepper (3 if whole)
- 1 cup Blood or Seville bitter orange juice (or ½ cup lime juice, ¼ cup orange juice, and ¼ cup grapefruit juice or white vinegar)
- ½ cup Lime juice
- ¼ cup Orange juice
- ¼ cup Grapefruit juice or white vinegar
- 1 clove Garlic, diced
- 1 tsp Sugar
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 1 medium Jalapeno pepper, stem and seeds removed, halved lengthways.
- Prepare Onions – Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. While water heats, peel onion and thinly slice. When water starts to boil, add onion slices and garlic. Turn heat off. Let it sit for 2 minutes. Drain in colander over the sink.
- Prepare Escabeche – Combine all juices in a bowl. Mix in pepper, oregano, allspice, sugar, and salt. Mix well and then stir in drained onions, chopped chili, and bay leaves.
- Finish – Let pickles marinate at room temperature for 2 hours. Place in a jar, cover, and refrigerate. Pickled onions will keep their flavor for several weeks in the refrigerator.
- The classic escabeche uses the hard to find bitter Seville oranges or blood oranges.
- Italian marinated yellow peppers are an interesting substitute for the jalapeno chili.