Achiote is a really interesting ingredient. Read my article here to find out more. You can buy pre-prepared annatto paste, I use the El Yucateco brand from Mex Grocer. I have found ground annatto in specialist spice companies – such as The Spice Mountain and The Spice Shop. Vietnamese or Oriental grocers such as Longdan sell annatto seed (as does The Spice Mountain). The seeds are notoriously difficult to grind. Aficionados know that you really need an electric spice grinder.
And if annatto wasn’t difficult enough to track down the other main ingredient in an achiote marinade is ‘bitter orange’, the juice from the Seville orange. The juice is so sour it is almost undrinkable and surprisingly tastes little of oranges. But it works brilliantly as a marinade and flavour in combination with annatto paste. Along with others who want to use achiote paste in a Yucatecan marinade, I have used alternative combinations of citrus and vinegar. In the end it is down to personal taste as much as authenticity.
Make the pickled red onions (optional). Slice the onions thinly to make onion rings. Heat a dry frying pan and toast the cumin and peppercorns for a minute without burning. Put the spices in a pan with remaining ingredients, apart from the onions. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the onions and bring back to the boil and turn off the heat. Pour the contents of the pan into a glass bowl and let the onions macerate for 4 hours or overnight before using. (They will keep for weeks in the fridge.)
Prepare the salmon. Cut the salmon into bite-size chunks.
Make the marinade. In a larger ceramic or glass bowl, combine the paste (or the alternative spices) with the bitter orange (or alternative liquids) and add the salt and sugar. Add the salmon and prawns and mix together with a spoon (avoid putting hands in the marinade if possible). Marinate for 20 minutes.
Make the sauce. Chop the onion, celery, garlic and chilli and fry gently in a little olive oil for 10 – 15 minutes without burning. Add the cumin and bay leaves and fry for a minute, then add the tomato puree and chicken stock. Strain the marinade into the pan and bring to a simmer and stir. Simmer for 10 minutes. Slice the red peppers and add to the sauce and stir. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes.
Sear the prawns and salmon. Heat a non-stick pan to medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and using a slotted spoon pull out the salmon and fry until cooked, set the salmon aside. Using the slotted spoon pull out the prawns and fry these adding more oil if necessary. Take the prawns from the pan and degalze the pan with any remaining marinade (providing your residues are not burnt). Add the fish and prawns to the sauce with the deglazed liquid. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more stock or water to thin or dilute the sauce if necessary.
Serve. Garnish the dish with pickled onions and coriander and serve with rice, salad or greens, lime and Greek yoghurt. Tortillas would be welcome accompaniment.