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MEX_Pollo a la Yucateca_Free_shutterstock_77204668

This dish is unmissable when in the Yucatán – not simply in the sense of being a must-eat, but also because it is absolutely everywhere. We don't blame the Yucatecans... this is one tasty meal, and very hard indeed to tire of (in which case you can always move on to the fish or pork versions).

The Mayan method is to slowly bake the chicken underground, imbuing it with the delicious flavour of the achiote (anatto) marinade . You don't need to go to such extremes however – an oven will suffice!
Achiote paste is easy to find and buy online, but we've included instructions to make your own.

  • Prep:  3-4 hours
  • Cook: 1-2 hours
  • Total time: 6 hours
  • Recipe serves: 8

Ingredients for the achiote paste

  • 2 tbsps ground anatto seeds
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp rock salt
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 8 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 2 tbsps bitter (Seville) orange juice

Instructions for the achiote paste

  1. If you weren't able to get hold of pre-ground spices, grind everything up now (NB we don't advise buying the anatto seeds whole as they are extremely laborious to grind in a pestle and mortar).
  2. Mix the spices, seasoning and garlic (ie everything except for the juices) together in a bowl.
  3. Mix the juices together and gradually add small amounts to the spice mixture until you have a thick paste.
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Instructions for the chicken

  1. Butterfly one whole free-range/organic chicken and rub it with achiote paste until very thoroughly covered. Place in a container and put in the fridge for 3 or 4 hours to marinate.
  2. Heat the oven to 180°C. Roast the chicken for roughly an hour to an hour and a half (depending on the size of the bird), checking regularly until the skin is crispy all over. Skewer the chicken – the juices should run clear.
  3. Once fully cooked, remove the chicken from the oven. Allow to rest, carve and serve with boiled white rice and salad.

Variation:
This marinade also works a treat with pork, which should be wrapped in aluminum foil (or indeed soaked banana leaves) and very slowly cooked until the meat falls off the bone. In Mexico the pork version is known as "puerco pibil" or "cochinita pibil", and makes a fantastic filling for tacos.

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