I wanted to make my own achiote paste for this because some store-bought pastes include food coloring and preservatives that I’d rather avoid. It’s easy to make by using a spice grinder to mix two tablespoons annatto seeds, one teaspoon whole cumin seed, one teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, six whole allspice berries, one teaspoon sea salt, one teaspoon coriander seed, and two whole cloves. Once the spices are ground, a minced garlic clove and a tablespoon of lime juice were added to make a paste. This paste was combined with apple cider vinegar before being added to the fish. I chose black drum from the Gulf and used portioned fillets for this. The recipe in the book is written for a large fillet to be portioned after baking. So, my cooking time was shorter, and each plate received a banana leaf package. The fish fillets were seasoned, topped with the juice of an orange, and then the achiote-vinegar mixture was added. The fish was left in the refrigerator to marinate for an hour. To cook, pieces of banana leaf were placed on a baking sheet, a piece of fish was placed on each, each fillet was topped with sliced onion, sliced tomato, a bay leaf, sliced bell pepper, and pieces of sliced and seeded habanero. The banana leaves were folded around the fish, and I baked them for about eighteen minutes. With my shortened cooking time, the vegetables remained crisp-tender. I was thrilled to find pretty, ripe tomatoes from our local B5 Farms where they’re greenhouse-grown in colder weather. And, sadly, I had to buy banana leaves at the grocery store since we haven’t replaced our banana plants after they died off in a freeze a few years ago. I served the fish with cilantro rice and fried plantains.
When the banana leaf packages were opened, the fish was aromatic and completely tender. Cooking the fish in the enclosed pocket of a leaf does wonders for the texture, and all those flavors from the achiote paste mix together wonderfully. I’ll be making achiote paste often from now on to use on fish or chicken or tofu. And, adding tostones to the meal made me realize I need to be making those more often too. This book will have me enjoying Mexican food even more frequently than I already do.
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte (Phaidon, $49.95, October 2014).
Region: Yucatan Pennisula
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus 1 hour marinating
Cooking time: 25 minutes
3 1/4 lb/1.5 kg grouper, filleted
juice of 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
2 tablespoons achiote paste
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons (2 1/4 oz/60 g) lard or butter
1 large white onion, sliced
3 tomatoes, sliced
2 bay leaves
1/2–1 habanero chile, membrane and seeds removed
2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1 banana leaf
sea salt and pepper
fried plantains, to serve
Refried Beans, to serve
Red Onion Escabeche, to serve
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4).
Place the fillets in a shallow dish. Add the orange juice and oregano and season with salt and pepper.
Put the achiote and vinegar in a small bowl, and stir until dissolved. Pour the mixture over the fish, cover with plastic wrap (clingfilm), and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Grease a large ovenproof dish with some of the lard or butter. Remove the fish from the marinade and place the fish opened out in the dish. Spread with the remaining lard, then put the onion, tomatoes, bay leaves, chile, and bell peppers on top. Wrap the fish with the banana leaf, then cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the fish is cooked but not dry. Serve with plantains, refried beans, and red onion escabeche.
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