I spent two years living in Nicaragua some time ago, and while Nicaraguan food is very distinct from Mexican, many ingredients are the same. During those two years, I cooked my way through Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen, which is one of the best Mexican cook books out there and the source of this recipe, with a few minor tweaks to make it a little easier.
I especially loved being able to go to the open air market and pick up fresh corn masa, and all the fresh vegetables produced locally. Of course, it was discouraging to see the señoras spray Raid under their tables every time they spotted a cockroach, which was just about constantly. So much for romantic living in a Caribbean nation. But let’s get to the food!
This Achiote paste will be a star in your kitchen, as it is in mine. So versatile, you can use it on pork, fish or chicken. It works for grilling and braising and sautéing. It’s packed full of flavors.
I am a huge fan of Mexican food and this is the real deal, not the cheese covered, often bland food you find throughout California and the Southwest. This is food deep from Mexico’s south, with its distinct flavors. You can use this meat for tacos, pile it high on tostadas or put it in our nachos too!
I love achiote, as you might already know. It’s in my Ecuadorian Quinoa Soup and our Ecuadorian Shrimp and Rice too. Achiote is the Spanish word for Annatto, the stuff that makes your cheddar cheese orange, among other things. You can find it in the Latin section of most grocery stores, and definitely in a Latin grocer. In this recipe, it’s used as a paste combined with other herbs and spices.
You’ll want to be generous with it and slather it all over the meat well, then let it sit a couple of hours. You’re going to then sear the meat for a few minutes in a hot pan to get those tasty caramelized flavors.
Then you can just stand back and watch. Just put the meat in your slow cooker or let it braise in the oven. You can even use the same dish you seared it in (I recommend a large dutch oven if you have one), to braise it in.
Braising is basically slowly cooking a meat in a humid environment, partially submerged. This breaks down the meat and makes it fork tender. The liquid adds flavor and keeps it moist.
Once it’s done braising you can remove some of the fat, but definitely do not throw away that delicious cooking liquid! Just skim the top with a ladle. Or if you have one of those special pitchers for fat removal, where the spout comes out of the bottom, you can drain the liquid off and put it in there. Then let the fat rise to the top, pour off the liquid back into the meat, and discard the fat.
You’ll definitely want to serve these with the pickled onions and cilantro, maybe throw in some guacamole too. To make the pickled onions, just follow these easy instructions.
Slice thinly one red onion and blanch in boiling water for just under a minute. Grind up 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, and a 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano. Add two cloves garlic roughly chopped, and 1/3 cup cider vinegar. Cover the sliced onions, let sit for several hours. This one is thanks to Mr. Bayless too. You can keep it for months in the refrigerator and enjoy these on everything from steak to fish to pork.
Heat some tortillas up, throw it all in there, and enjoy.
- For the Paste
- 2 tablespoons ground achiote seeds
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 11/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 6 cloves garlicpeeled and chopped finely
- 1 teaspoon generoussalt
- For The Meat
- 5 pounds lean boneless pork shoulder Boston Butt
- Juice and zest of one orange
- Juice and zest of one lime
- Combine spices and in spice grinder, blend until fine.
- Remove spices to a small bowl. Add a few teaspoons of water until spices come together in a paste.
- Place all ingredients (ground spices, garlic, vinegar) in a small chopper, or mortar and pestle, and grind until all are well combined.