Pollo Pibil is another classic meal in the Yucatan peninsula, a true gastronomic jewel! The main ingredient in this dish is the Achiote paste, also known as "Recado Rojo", an essential ingredient and the base of many dishes in Yucatecan Cuisine. These dishes include the famous Cochinita Pibil and the Mucbi-Pollo, a large tamal prepared for the Day of the Dead. The Achiote (Annatto) tree grows in tropical and subtropical weather in different regions of the world. The seeds are used as a natural colorant and seasoning, or as a part of home remedies, but it is also used to give color to cosmetics, paint, varnishes and textiles. In the kitchen, it gives color and seasoning to dishes like rice, soups, broths, atoles, meats, fish, and sausages, besides other cold meats.
The above picture shows the Achiote seeds, now easily available via online stores or at Latin-Caribbean markets, but the Achiote Paste/Recado Rojo is the one we're using for this recipe, since the paste is already made. While living in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco, I learned how to make the paste from my hosting family. I will write about that in another post.
- 6 small garlic cloves, roasted
- 75 grams of Achiote paste
- 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 1/4 fresh grapefruit juice
- 1 tsp. dried mexican oregano
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 3-4 Lbs. chicken cut in pieces*
- 2 banana leaves**or aluminum foil cut into about 12 X 12 in squares.
- 1 Large tomato cut in slices
- 1/2 white or red onion cut in thin slices
- 6 Epazote leaves
- Salt and pepper to season
- *I usually buy 6 whole chicken legs (instead of the whole chicken) when making this recipe. They're easier to wrap, have more flavor, and everyone can have the same portion.
- **Banana leaves are usually sold in the supermarket's frozen section or in Latin markets. Defrost them and clean with a wet paper towel. To make them more pliable, place them one by one over the stove top flame in a steady and fast movement, they will change to a glossy color and become pliable.
1. Place Achiote paste, citrus juices, oregano and cumin in a blender; process until it has a smooth texture.
2. Place chicken in a large glass bowl and cover with the Achiote sauce. Marinate for at least 1/2 hour in the refrigerator. You can also prepare this meal over night and just cook before dinner.
3. Arrange the banana leaves or aluminum foil, cutting them into squares ready to assemble the chicken packages. Prepare a steamer pot or a large Dutch oven with a lid to cook the chicken.
4. Place one piece of chicken in the center of the banana leaf, spoon on some of the marinade sauce, and garnish with a slice of tomato, some slices of onion, 1 epazote leave and 1 small roasted garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Wrap the chicken into rectangles, like when wrapping tamales. You can either use only aluminum foil for this step, banana leaves, or both. When I find fresh banana leaves, I use only those; when only frozen leaves are available, then I used both, since frozen banana leaves break easily after thawing, but still give flavor to the chicken.
6. If you are cooking the chicken with a steamer pot (tamalera), just add warm water to the bottom without it getting above the rack. If you are using a Dutch oven or large pot, make a bed at the bottom of the pot using banana leaves or aluminium foil. Add 1 cup of hot water and place the packages inside the pot evenly. Cover with banana leaves or aluminum foil and place the lid on top.
7. Cook for about 12 minutes on medium high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook for 30 more minutes. Do not let the water run dry, refill to keep the steam going, just be careful when opening and removing the lid, since the vapor can be very hot.
8. To serve, unwrap the chicken, removing the banana leaves or aluminum foil, and serve with red pickled onion, habanero sauce and warm tortillas. You can also serve with white rice and a salad.