Achiote is one of the most popular condiments in Puerto Rican Cuisine. It is simply annatto seeds cooked in olive oil. It’s most common use used is as a coloring, particularly in rice, where the achiote gives the grains that bright orange color so definitive to us rice lovers. It’s other most typical variation is in Bacalao con Achiote, or shredded codfish cooked with the achiote.
Annatto is the pulp of the tropical tree Bixa orellana. Annatto dye is sued in coloring some cheeses. In the old days, it was used by Caribbean and South American Indians for body paint.
I’ve discovered that achiote can be used in making other dishes, such as the recipe given today, Pollo con Achiote or, simply, Achiote Chicken. If you have achiote already on hand, then the recipe is a snap. If not, a quick recipe for making achiote is given. What’s marvelous about this recipe is that it can be prepared baked, steam, or grilled (this is the season for it). Whichever method is used, the result is a delicious and memorable rendition.
POLLO CAN ACHIOTE
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, about 1½ pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh crushed oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon annatto seeds
½ cup olive oil
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Rinse chicken breasts under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
- In a bowl, place chicken. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, and cumin. Mix to combine. Set chicken aside while preparing achiote.
- In a small skillet, preferably cast-iron, heat olive oil. When oil is very hot, add annatto seeds. Turn heat to low and cook the seeds, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. If the flame is kept on high, the seeds may crack and splatter. During cooking, the oil will turn a bright orange-red color. The longer the seeds steep in oil, the deeper the hue.
- Remove from heat and let cool. Using a small strainer, pour into a glass jar or container. Cover and refrigerate. It will last in the fridge indefinitely. Or you can freeze it. Again, the shelf time is indefinite. But once it’s thawed, it cannot be re-frozen. Don’t ask me why.
- Add 2-3 tablespoons to the chicken (the more you add the greater the color). Place chicken in a baking pan (I prefer cast-iron), and bake 20-30 minutes until tender and chicken has bright orange-red tinge.
Yield: 4 servings.Steaming: Place chicken in a pot or pan. Add water up to 2 inches in pan. Bring to a boil. Place chicken in pan, lower heat and steam 10 minutes or until chicken is tender. A bamboo steamer can also be used, if you have one.Grilling: Prepare grill to medium heat; and grill chicken until brown, about 2 minutes per side. Cover grill, and continue to cook chicken until cooked through, turning and moving to coolest part of grill if necessary to prevent burning, about 25 minutes.