Achiote paste is used in Mayan Yucatán cusine, the most famous dish being cochinita pibil (literally pork cooked in a pit). The deep red paste is made with ground annatto seed. Friends from tropical countries have told me that they just went to their achiote tree and broke open the pods to use the seeds for a fresh flavor. For the rest of us, buy it in a 3 ½ ounce brick in a small paper box at a Mexican market.
Yucatán cooks use sour oranges, called su’uts’ pak’áal in the Mayan language, and also known as Seville oranges. Since they are hard to find in the US, I substitute juices from one orange, one lime, one lemon and one grapefruit.
The chicken is traditionally served with red onions which have been pickled with salt and lime juice.
Lorena del Carmen, a Mayan woman I know here in Berkeley, inspired me with her recipe. She made her chicken a bit differently though. She first boiled it, then split it in half and painted the achiote mixture on the inside of the chicken. She then baked it. But I’m following her recipe for the onions. Although she didn’t measure the ingredients, I estimated the amounts from watching her make them.
one pack of chicken breast halves (about 5 or 6 halves)
1/2 brick achiote paste
1 Tb olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp or more to taste Tapatio sauce
2 tsp sea salt
several grinds black pepper
1 1/2 Tb juice from one lime
2 Tb juice from one lemon
1/3 cup juice from one orange
1/3 cup juice from one small grapefruit
1 red onion
1 Tb salt (I like to use sea salt)
Juice from 3 limes
Make the marinade:
Mix achiote paste with olive oil, using a fork to make a smooth paste, then add the juices, oregano and salt, and stir well until no lumps remain.
Trim fat off breast halves and cut each into about 3 pieces, about 3 x 4 inches. Stab the pieces a few times to let the marinade permeate them. Submerge in marinade so that all sides of the meat are covered. Marinade several hours.
After you put the chicken in the marinade, make the pickled onions. . Slice a red onion thinly. Put a layer of onions in a ceramic bowl and sprinkle salt over it, and continue to layer with salt, using a total of 1 Tb salt. Squeeze 3 limes over the onions. mix with your fingers, and then cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate until chicken is cooked. The onions will soften when pickled. Stir every so often while the onions are pickling. Serve with the chicken.
If you’re not up for barbecuing, you can place the chicken in a shallow baking pan under the broiler for 15 minutes until they brown.