Pollo En Escabeche: Marinated Chicken From Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

The word ‘escabeche’ comes from the Arabic word ‘sikiube’, which means ‘acid’, and is a method for light pickling. In Mexico, escabeches combine vinegar with citrus juices, bay leaves and other herbs. This is a Mayan recipe, so it includes the traditional achiote paste made from annatto seeds and is called ‘recado rojo’. Annatto seeds and ready-made achiote paste can be found at most Hispanic markets, but can easily be made at home, too.

Mercado (Market) in Cuidad Guzman, Mexico



Achiote Paste (Recado Rojo)

1 tablespoon achiote (annatto) seeds

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

8 black peppercorns, whole

¼ teaspoon chile piquin, or red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons orange juice mixed with 1 tablespoon  white vinegar

Chicken (Boiled)

1 whole halal chicken, about 3 lbs.

10 cups water

½ white onion

4 cloves garlic


3 sprigs cilantro (coriander)

Habanero and Red Onion Marinade

2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

2 teaspoon ground cumin

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1 cup orange juice

½ cup lime juice or 1 ½ cups bitter orange juice

1 pound red onions, sliced long and thin

1 teaspoon salt

6 habanero chiles (preferably roasted)

Achiote Grilling Sauce

3 ounces achiote paste (see recipe above)

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup lime juice

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil


Step 1: Achiote Paste (Recado Rojo)

In a spice grinder, grind the achiote seeds, cumin, oregano, peppercorns, clove, red pepper and salt. Grind the garlic in a mortar or molcajete, add the ground spices and stir in orange juice to make a paste. Place in a small jar, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (makes about 1/3 cup or 3 oz.)

Step 2: Chicken (Boiling)

Place the whole chicken, water, onion and 4 cloves peeled garlic, 1 Tb. salt and the cilantro in a large pot or Dutch oven and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Drain and set aside. When cool, break apart into large pieces (work on next step while chicken is boiling).

Step 3: Habanero/Red Onion Marinade

Meanwhile, toast the oregano, cumin and unpeeled garlic. Then peel the garlic and puree in a blender with the oregano, cumin, orange juice and lime juice.

Place the red onions in an earthenware or enamel container and add the puree you just made. Stir, then add 1 tsp. salt and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, add the habanero chiles. Set aside for at least two hours.

Step 4:  Achiote Grilling Sauce

Dissolve the achiote paste in the orange and lime juices in a bowl and stir well, add olive oil and mix thoroughly. Place cooled chicken in a deep broiling or grill pan and pour the mixture over the top.

Step 5:  Finishing

Using an outdoor grill, indoor grill pan or your oven broiler, cook chicken for 5-15 minutes, allowing it to crisp slightly. Let cool then shred by hand. Just before serving, arrange the shredded chicken on a large platter and cover with the red onions and habaneros chiles mixture. Serve with a side of beans, warm tortillas and all the traditional Mexican-style toppings you enjoy!

Serves 6-8 hungry people, but recipe can be doubled, tripled or quadrupled very easily!

Bismillah and Buen Provecho!


Recipe ‘halalified’ by My Halal Kitchen author and adapted from Mexico: The Beautiful Cookbook. Authentic Recipes from the Regions of Mexico. Recipes by Susanna Palazuelos. 1996. Harper Collins.

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