Eddie and I had a grand time celebrating the New Year with our family in Veracruz and, as you might imagine, enjoyed some incredible meals. New Year’s Eve dinner was for 40, and one of the starring dishes was Pollo Pibil, a regional recipe from the south of Mexico.
The three principal flavoring ingredients in this recipe are achiote, a paste made from annatto seeds, Acuyo leaf, also known as Hoja Santa or Yerba Santa, and banana leaves. Banana leaves are used to steam meats and tamales in Veracruz, the YucatanPeninsula and other southern states, and add a delightful fragrance and taste to the filling.
The week prior to our visit my niece had been vacationing in Merida, Yucatan, and she brought home some achiote paste. She kindly gave me a bag of it, and my godson’s grandmother also gave me a small bag of Acuyo leaves from her garden. I “smuggled” all this across the border and promptly went shopping for banana leaves at our local Mexican market. If you can find a store that sells banana leaves they will also carry achiote paste, and perhaps even Acuyo leaves. If you can’t find the Acuyo you might add a few sprigs of mint to the top of the dish before baking.
3 to 4 pound chicken, in pieces. Cut breast in 4 pieces
4 Acuyo leaves (hoja santa or yerba santa)
1/3 cup achiote paste
Juice from one orange
Juice from 3 Meyer lemons
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
Mix marinade ingredients in blender at high speed. Taste and add salt as needed. Place chicken pieces in ZipLock bag and add marinade. Seal bag and massage until chicken pieces are well coated. Refrigerate for 24 hours, occasionally massaging and turning to ensure chicken is well coated.
On day 2, cut banana leaves in sheets large enough to create 2 folding layers that will create a “boat” in a roasting dish. Quickly roast the sheets over a flame, moving across, until the outer part of the leaf becomes shiny. With a damp cloth, wipe both sides of the leaves and place them horizontally and vertically in the roasting pan.
Add marinated chicken pieces
Slice one onion in rounds and cover the chicken with rings.
Place fresh Acuyo leaves over onion.
Tightly close the banana leaves to seal the dish.
Cover roasting pan with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.
Serve with Mexican Rice, black bean soup and warm corn tortillas. Buen provecho!