Pollo pibil – Achiote chicken

DSC01318Achiote 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.

Seville OrangesYucatán cooks use sour oranges, called su’uts’ pak’áal in the Mayan language, which are also known as Seville oranges.. If they are hard to find in the your area, you can 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.

Ingredients:

ingredients for achiote chicken w grapefruit, lime, lemon, orange and achiote del MayaMarinade:

one pack of chicken breast halves (about 5 or 6 halves) and/or thighs

1/2 brick achiote paste

3 Tb olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp sea salt

several grinds black pepper

1 tsp or more to taste Tapatio sauce

Juice of 3 large Seville Oranges

OR

1 1/2 Tb  juice from one lime

1 Tb juice from half a lemon

1/3  cup  juice from 2 small juice orange

1/3 cup juice from one small grapefruit or half a large grapfruit

red onionsPickled onions:

1 red onion

1 Tb salt (I like to use sea salt)

Juice from 3 limes

Make the marinade:

achiote with olive oil oregano and salt

In a non-reactive container, mix achiote paste with olive oil, using a fork to make a smooth paste. Add oregano, salt and pepper and mix well.

Add the Tapatio sauce and  citrus juices and stir well until no lumps remain.

achiote sauceStab the chicken a few times on both sides to let the marinade permeate it. Submerge in marinade so that all sides of the meat are covered. Marinade 2 -4 hours.

onions sliced, salted and w lime juice marinadeAfter you put the chicken in the marinade, make the pickled onions. . Slice a red onion thinly.  Put a layer of onions in a non-reactive 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.

Grill meat on barbecue over medium flame.

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.

serving

Serve with pickled onions and  fresh tortillas. Or make tacos or tostadas with them.

Twice Cooked Fajitas

For Cinco de Mayo I am making fajitas: spicy from two kinds of chili,  fragrant with lime, and tipsy on beer.  This recipe was inspired by my late brother-in-law and Texas barbecue master, Larry Luna. The juicy and flavorful chicken is twice cooked, first on the grill, then braised in the oven with its marinade.  I made  chicken fajitas  here, but you can also make them with skirt steak. Marinade the steak for at least 3 hours, grill it whole, then cut across the grain into strips before braising it in the marinade.


Serves 4

¼ cup boiling water

3 dried chilies such as Chile California, stems removed

2 jalapeños

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 cup light-colored beer such as Tecate

2 limes, juiced; zest peeled in long strips

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast fat trimmed and sliced,  or  2-3 lb skirt steak.

1 small onion, sliced

4 bell peppers (1 red and 3 green), seeded and cut into strips

2 Tb olive oil

If using skirt steak, slice against the grain and cut into strips. Trim off the fat. Using a tenderizing mallet, pound each strip so that the tenderizing marks show. This is a good way to work out your frustrations and aggressions.

Add chilies to boiling water and let soak for at least 15 minutes. Peel lime zest with vegetable peeler into a long strip, then juice limes. Pour beer, 1 Tb olive oil, and lime juice in blender. Add chilies, jalapeños, soaking water and other seasonings to beer mixture. Whir in blender. Trim fat off of breast, cut into strips, and marinate for an hour or more.


Place chicken on grill, reserving marinade. Put bell peppers and onion in a grill wok and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Grill over medium heat until chicken and onions and bell peppers begin to char. (You can also use a wok or heavy pan over the stove).

Heat oven to 300’ Pour marinade into a casserole or clay pot. Add cooked chicken, peppers and onions and lime zest. Bake for 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro leaves and avocado slices. Serve with tortillas, Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans) and  Sonia’s guacamole.