Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pollo Pibil

You might think that after being back state-side for almost a month, I would be over my desires for all things Mexico. Sadly, you would be mistaken. Ok, so I'm not exactly looking at vacation properties on the Yucatan anymore, but I am still thinking about the food. In particular, I have been wanting for some time to make something with "pibil" in the title, so I did my best to re-create a meal I had in Playa del Carmen. The original recipe, for those of you who have never seen "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" is made with pork butt and cooked in banana leaves; however, since there are only two of us and pork butt's tend to be a bit large, I chose two chicken breasts instead, and used foil instead of banana leaves because, well because I don't know where to by banana leaves in The City. So here is my attempt at winging a simple yet very traditional Mexican dish.

Pollo Pibil

2 1/2 Tbs. achiote paste
2 - 3 cups orange juice
1 large yellow onion
6 - 8 garlic cloves
1 small habenero pepper, seeded, deveined and finely diced
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

In a large bowl, dissolve the achiote paste in the orange juice. The paste is tough and sticky, and will take some work to dissolve completely. I recommend using a fork or spoon to smash up the chunks of paste to save yourself time and unwanted wrist strain. The paste will not completely dissolve, and there will usually be a few small clumps at the bottom of the bowl. Try not to worry yourself too much about this fact, realize that no one is perfect, and move on. WARNING! This mixture, which gives the pibil its characteristic deep red color, will have the same affect on your clothing. For this dish, make sure that your cooking clothes are ones you won't mind donating to the dust-rag pile.

Line a baking dish with foil, covering all sides and edges with foil. You want to make sure that there are no gaps through which the sauce can escape. Then loosely lay one more sheet of foil in the pan, folding it up all four sides. Once you have made a nice bed for the chicken, place the two breasts in the dish. Dice your habanero pepper into tiny pieces and stir into the juice mixture. The pepper is hot enough, but if you like even more heat, leave the seeds and veins in. Slice the onion in big, thick rings about 3/4 - 1" thick,leaving the narrowing rings in place and set in the pan with the chicken. Distribute the whole cloves of garlic around the pan. Finally, pour the achiote/orange juice mixture in over the chicken so that it covers the chicken and onions completely. Cover the dish tightly with another sheet of foil, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

With your oven at 375, leave the dish tightly covered with foil and cook the Pollo Pibil for about 1 hour. Leave it alone to cook; with that much liquid in the pan it will not dry out. Just let it do its thing, and worry about something else for an hour.

For a nice side dish, dice 1/2 a yellow onion, and saute until translucent. Before the onion finishes cooking, press about 3 or 4 cloves of garlic into the pan. Take 1 can of black beans and pour into the hot pan, and bring to almost boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once you are ready to serve, sprinkle fresh roughly chopped cilantro over the beans and the pibil.

I have to say, except for almost ruining one of my favorite shirts, this dish was very easy and really quite good. The achiote and orange juice make a very unique flavor, and of course the habanero gives it a great kick. If you can't find achiote paste, which I brought home from Mexico, use fresh annatto seeds, finely ground in a clean coffee grinder. ENJOY!