This Grilled Achiote Chicken has a unique, earthy taste that must be experienced to be believed. A traditional Yucatan dish known as Pollo Pibil, pollo meaning chicken and pibil meaning pit-roasted. In my kitchen we call this Pollo Pibil because it sounds more exciting, even though we don’t spit-roast it.
The secret ingredient is achiote paste and it’s used as both a seasoning and marinade. This paste is made from the hard red seeds of the annatto tree and is used in Mexican and South American dishes. The seeds are crushed into a powder then made into a paste by adding vinegar, herbs and spices. Not only does it give a unique, earthy taste but the achiote paste also turns the chicken a vibrant red colour.
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While on vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico many years ago we ate at Cafe Pasqual’s and bought their cookbook. The book, Spirited Recipes from Santa Fe, is written by Katharine Kagel the chef/owner at Cafe Pasqual’s. It was on that trip to New Mexico that I discovered achiote paste and fell in love with its unique earthy taste.
In her book Chef Kagel serves her Grilled Achiote Chicken with Saffron Rice and Fire-Roasted Balsamic-Marinated Vegetables. I’ve modified her original recipes to work in my kitchen with my everyday style of cooking but I will say that this is a magical combination of dishes perfect for summer entertaining. It never fails to impress guests and I love it too.
The Pantry – Buying Achiote Paste
I buy achiote paste in a small box at a local Latin American market. It is an orange-hued, claylike brick packed in a small box. The La Perla Del Mayab brand of achiote paste is gluten free (at the time of writing). In Calgary where I live, I can find this ingredient at Unimarket.
Get The Tools – Reusable Grilling Sheet
Do you have a reusable grilling sheet? Mine is a Cookina Reusable Grilling Sheet and it works perfectly. You can cut them up, send them with kids to a barbecue and carry them to use on public grills at campsites and parks. A great solution to concerns about cross contamination.
To learn more checkout this post, Reusable Grilling Sheet.
Let me know in the comments below if you have used achiote paste, what made with it or if you used a grilling sheet.
More Recipes Using Achiote Paste
|2 tsp cumin seeds|
|half a 3” cinnamon stick|
|½ tsp whole cloves|
|2¼ tsp whole black peppercorns|
|1 oz achiote paste* (about 1/3 of a 3.5 oz box)|
|2 tsp salt|
|1 Tbsp minced garlic|
|1 cup orange juice|
|¼ cup lime juice|
|½ Tbsp dried marjoram|
|¼ cup olive oil|
|6 chicken breast halves|
- Dry roast the cumin, cinnamon and cloves in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Shake the pan frequently, until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Pour into a spice grinder and let it cool for a few minutes.
- Add black peppercorns and grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
- Combine remaining marinade ingredients in a food processor or blender crumbling the achiote paste with your fingers. Add spice powder. Blend until smooth.
- Pour marinade over chicken and allow to marinate for 24 hours.
- Remove chicken from marinade.
- Grill, turning once, until chicken is juicy but cooked through, about 7 minutes per side.
- Remove from grill and let rest for a few minutes. Thinly slice chicken and lay it on top of the saffron rice. Serve with balsamic marinated vegetables.