Is this the best Mexican dish EVER?

Ben says yes…..

Achiote chicken

We’ve all got a mental list of our ‘most-memorable dishes’, right? Well it was during a sourcing trip to Mexico a few years ago that I tasted my number 1.

Lisa and I were about to order dinner at the superb W-Hotel in Mexico City (see the picture below,  where every the bathroom has a hammock :-), when the Chicken Achiote caught my eye (probably because I’d never heard of it before).

W Mexico

What arrived at the table was THE most succulent, flavoursome grilled chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was like the very best flavours of Mexico had come together with an element of something unexpected – and quite frankly, I’ve never got over it. So much so, that for a short time I cyber-stalked the chef Eduardo Esuna for his recipe …to no avail !

A Yucatán speciality, the star ingredient of the dish is the achiote paste, also known as ‘Recado rojo’. Achiote itself is Spanish term for the spice otherwise known as annatto. Annatto are the seeds of the achiote tree, found throughout Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of Asia. Known as ‘the poor-man’s Saffron’ (harsh, don’t you think?), annatto powder gives a soft red colouring to food as it marinates, as well impregnates a superb smoky, tangy flavour.

AnnattoR Rojo






Anyhow, here’s a Chicken Achiote recipe we found and adapted a little. Don’t be scared off by the annatto. We get ours from Gewurzhaus,  although you can also try Herbie’s Spices in Balmain,  . It’s then ground down to a powder.


Ingredients :

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons annatto seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds (if using powder, 1/3 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds (if using powder, 1/3 teaspoon)
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chilli (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (can replace some with tequila or vinegar if desired) OR juice of 2-3 fresh limes (for extra tangy)
  • 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil
  • Fresh coriander (chopped)
  • 1 chicken (whole and flattened, or in pieces)


Grind the first 6 ingredients to a powder in a spice mill or powerful blender. Crush the garlic (and chilli if desired) with the salt in a mortar, then gradually add spice powder mix. Moisten with the orange or lime juice and oil to a smooth paste, adding more if a runnier consistency is desired, less for a ‘rub’

Thoroughly cover all sides of the chicken (or pieces). Cover in a dish, and refrigerate from 4 hours to overnight (ideally).

Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C)

Place in a covered baking dish and bake for about 45-60 minutes, taking the lid off for the last 15 minutes. Chicken should be tender and fall off the bone when tested with a fork.

For the barbeque, place on the grill on medium heat, close the lid, and turn regularly for 45 minutes.

Serve with rice, wedges of fresh lime, coriander leaves and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy this awesome dish as much as I do- and if you have a favourite Mexican recipe that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, Hasta pronto amigos…


PS- If you happen to be in Mexico City and meet a chef by the name of Eduardo Esuna, please do tell him that Ben from Sydney sends his regards!

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