Annatto Chicken

Happy New Year!

Instead of your usual resolution to lose weight and be nicer, why not resolve to experiment with flavor, and expand your culinary horizons. It’s one resolution you may actually keep! I have resolved to provide you with a new flavor each week this year to help you along. For the first week of the year, we’ll start, appropriately enough, with the letter “A.”

The achiote tree or shrub, native to South America and the Caribbean, has heart-shaped leaves and a spiny heart-shaped seed pod that contains the annatto seed. The red pulp and tiny red seeds have been used historically as paint and dye. It’s currently used as a colorant in many commercially prepared foods, including cheese, butter, candy, and smoked fish.

Annatto seed has a subtle bay-juniper flavor that’s favored in meat dishes throughout South America and the Pacific. Philippine cuisine takes full advantage of the annatto seed, incorporating it into all kinds of stews, sauces, and fried foods.

The seeds themselves are very hard, and when ground, still tend to add a touch of grit to a recipe. The most efficient method of incorporating annatto seeds is to first cook them in oil, strain out the seeds, and use the oil. Another way to incorporate annatto is to use a commercially prepared paste, called achiote paste.
Both the seeds and the paste can be found easily in Latin American markets or in the ethnic aisle of better supermarkets.

This dish can be frightening to those who don’t enjoy spicy heat. But tell them to relax. It’s more spiced than spicy.


1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup annatto seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 TB. fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp. cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp. whole allspice, crushed
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 tsp. peppercorns, crushed
Zest and juice of 1 large orange
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 (4- or 5-lb.) chicken, cut into serving pieces and rinsed with water


    1. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine oil and annatto seeds and cook, stirring, until oil is red and aromatic, about 10 minutes. Cool and strain off and discard seeds.
    2. In a large bowl combine annatto oil with garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, allspice, bay leaves, peppercorns, orange zest and juice, lime zest and juice, and vinegar. Stir well to combine.
    3. Put rinsed chicken pieces into a large plastic zipper bag. Pour in marinade and seal the bag. Massage marinade into meat and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours. Grill or sauté the chicken over low heat, or roast in a 400˚F oven, until the skin is crispy and the internal temperature reaches 180˚F, about 10 minutes per side. You could also roast the chicken at 400˚F for 45 to 60 minutes.


Anatto seeds

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