Melting Mexican pork tacos with pink pickled onions

Melting Mexican pork tacos with pink pickled onions

A Lot on Her Plate
Helen Cathcart

A couple of years ago I fulfilled a lifelong dream of going to Mexico. We’d been travelling around the States in cold weather prior to this, and the heat, colour and spirit of the Yucatán Peninsula drew us in. But aside from all the sun, sea and cervesas, it was the food that left the most lasting impression. I’d had good, authentic Mexican food before in London, LA and New York, but this was something else – the vitality and flavour combinations, along with the freshness of the produce and slow cooking methods, blew me away, and I ate tacos practically every day. One of the most ubiquitous dishes of the region is cochinita pibil – a slow-cooked pork dish where pork is marinated in acidic bright red annatto seed paste and slow cooked in banana leaves. The pork is served with tacos, black beans and pink pickled onions and is a total flavour bomb. This is my version, using grapefruit rather than the traditional orange, because my boyfriend is allergic, and it’s a great dish to prep ahead and serve when you’re entertaining.



Quantity Ingredient
40g achiote/annatto paste or a blend of 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns and 1 tablespoon hot smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, (do not use if using achiote/ annatto paste)
2 pink grapefruits, zested and juiced
1 lime, juiced


Quantity Ingredient
1kg boneless pork shoulder or butt, cut into 3 cm chunks
1 white onion, finely sliced
20g butter
2 whole fresh red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
or 1 scotch bonnet, deseeded and finely chopped

Pink pickled onion

Quantity Ingredient
1 small red onion, finely sliced
3 black peppercorns
1 clove
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 limes, juiced


Quantity Ingredient
1 tomato, finely chopped
2 ripe avocados, stoned and chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
15g coriander, leaves and stems chopped, and some leaves reserved for garnish
1/2 lime, juiced


Quantity Ingredient
1 teaspoon olive oil
6 corn or flour tortillas

To serve

Quantity Ingredient
1 iceberg lettuce, washed and finely sliced
1 portion Cumin + garlic black beans


  1. First, make the marinade. Place the achiote/annatto paste (or spice blend), salt, garlic and bay leaf in a food processor and blitz until the garlic is crushed. Add the oil and onion and blend to a chunky paste, and then the vinegar (if using), zest and citrus juices and blend to make a smooth paste.
  2. Place the pork in a large bowl, and pour over the marinade. Coat the pork thoroughly, rubbing the marinade in with your hands. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Remove from the oven at least 1 hour before cooking to bring to room temperature.
  3. Preheat the oven to 150°C.
  4. Put the pork and its marinade in an ovenproof casserole or high-sided baking tray, top with the sliced onion, butter and chillies and cover it tightly with foil. Place the dish in the centre of the oven and cook for about 3 hours, until the pork is so tender that it falls apart when you prod it with a fork.
  5. While it is cooking make the pink pickled onion. Place the sliced onion in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 1 minute. Drain. Add the spices, sugar, salt and lime juice, and stir to combine. Leave to sit for 1 hour or so, until the onion has turned bright pink. When you’re ready to serve, drain on some kitchen paper, to get rid of the brine.
  6. For the guacamole, put the tomato, avocado, garlic and onion in a bowl and mash together with a fork. Season with sea salt and pepper, then add the chilli, coriander and lime juice and incorporate. Taste for seasoning and garnish with coriander leaves.
  7. For the tortillas, brush a frying pan with the oil and heat until stinking hot. One at a time, toast each tortilla for about 15 seconds (flipping them over to toast both sides), until warm and soft. Serve in a pile.
  8. Use 2 forks to pull the pork apart and place it in a bowl in the middle of the table with the warm juices spooned over. Serve with the tortillas and bowls of shredded iceberg lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, cumin and garlic black beans and pink pickled onions scattered on top.


  • If you’re making the guacamole in advance, pop the avocado stone into the bowl with the guacamole and cover with cling film to stop it from going brown.
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