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Getting to know the spices of Mexico

If you want to create an authentic Mexican dish you can’t go wrong with this Recado Rojo, a predecessor to mole featuring bright red achiote seeds, which not only bring a bright, bold color to food, they also are used as pigment to paint buildings as well as bodies. (The trees from which the achiote, also called annatto seeds, are harvested are sometimes called lipstick trees.)

It is the Yucatan’s version of curry, and although it is available commercially at specialty stores, as with most other foods, making your own results in a more flavorful paste that result in better dishes that show more love.

This mixture, which also includes a colorful mix of other spices, is great with pork or chicken.

Recado Rojo

  • 1 cup achiote seeds (check your local Hispanic grocery store, Whole Foods or the internet)
  • 1 cup Seville orange juice or ½ cup lime juice, ¼ cup lemon juice and ¼ cup orange juice
  • 12 whole allspice berries
  • 4 tablespoons whole Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 20 cloves garlic, peeled and roasted over an open flame
  • 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
  • ½ cup Seville orange juice (see substitute above)

In a spice mill, grind the achiote seeds in batches until finely ground, continuing until all of the achiote has been ground. Strain the powder through a sieve.

Cover the ground seeds with orange juice mixture and stir to mix thoroughly. Set aside at room temperature.

In a cast iron skillet over high heat, toast the allspice, Mexican oregano and cumin seed until fragrant, then remove them from heat. Allow to cool 2 to 3 minutes.

In a spice mill, grind the toasted spices, the cinnamon and the peppercorns into a fine powder. Strain the powder through a sieve.

In a blender, process garlic, salt and juice into a smooth puree. Add the achiote paste and the remaining spices, processing until mixture has the consistency of a smooth paste.

Recado Rojo recipes

Recently, Lynn Rosetto Kasper, the amazing host of the PBS program “The Splendid Table” featured chicken braised in Recado Rojo, a flavor-packed comfort food that listeners could like smell through the radio, given the rich qualities of this spicy-sweet sauce.

Her recipe included:

  • 8 whole chicken legs
  • 1 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup Recado Rojo
  • 1 lime, halved, for garnish

Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Season the chicken legs with salt and pepper. Oil the grill grate. Grill the chicken skin side down until the skin colors and clear grill marks form, about 8 minutes. Do not flip — you just want color on one side. Remove from the grill.

Dissolve the Recado Rojo paste in the water and add the vinegar.

Place the chicken legs grill marks up in a shallow baking pan. Pour the vinegar mixture into the pan and cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake for 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Uncover and return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes so chicken becomes crispy.

Serve with the braising liquid and slices of lime.

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