Baked Chicken in Achiote Sauce

  • Time: 1 hour plus marinating time
  • Serves: 4
  • Level: medium

If you have achiote paste and a few Seville oranges, this recipe is actually really quick and easy. But if you need to make a paste from scratch and grind annatto seeds you might need to allow a little more time. I served this with green rice – a pilaf style of cooking rice with onion, celery and garlic and chopped parsley and coriander.

Achiote paste or annatto seeds or powder are readily available from Mexican and Oriental suppliers or specialist spice retailers. Get hold of some and make this sauce while the Seville oranges are still in season.

What you need

450g chicken breasts

450g chicken thights

For the achiote

35g prepared achiote paste


4 tsp ground annato – pre-ground or crushed then put in spice grinder, sieved and put through the spice grinder again

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground allspice

For the bitter orange

160ml bitter orange juice from Seville oranges


100ml orange juice

40ml lemon juice

20ml white wine vinegar

For the marinade

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp sugar

For the sauce

1 onion

1 stick celery

6 cloves garlic

1 red chilli (to taste)

1 tbs ground cumin

1 tbs dried oregano – or dried Mexican oregano

2 bay leaves

1 tsp tomato puree

250 ml chicken stock

To garnish

Fresh coriander, lime, Greek yoghurt

How Dad Cooked It

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.

Prepare the chicken. Cut the chicken breasts into 6 to 8 pieces. De bone the thighs if necessary. Cut the thighs into 2 to 3 pieces.

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 chicken and mix together with a spoon (avoid putting hands in the marinade if possible). Marinate for up to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4

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.

Bake the chicken. Pour the sauce into a baking dish. Add the chicken thighs and put in the oven for 25 minutes. Then add the chicken breasts covering them with the sauce. Bake for a further 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Taste the sauce and season to taste. Adjust with more water or stock 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.



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