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Achiote-marinated chicken breasts with black beans and mango salsa

Updated: May 7, 2021

Not all Mexican food is spicy, this dish is mild, beautifully flavored and wonderful. The different regions in Mexico vary tremendously in their diversity of cuisine, from the complex moles of Oaxaca to the spicy heat of Mexico City to the elegant and subtle flavors of the Yucatán Peninsula. This dish is from the Yucatán and highlights the flavors and cooking techniques of the region.

This is a main plate of three components, the chicken, the beans and salsa. Lots of little steps, the recipe is more time consuming than hard to make. But the dish comes together beautifully and it is well worth the effort, like all of Cindy Pawlcyn's recipes. The chicken brings the sourness of oranges and achiote seeds, the beans the slight heat from the pasilla chilies and intensity of the citrus zests, and finally sweet from the salsa. The flavors are addictive, you will keep craving more.

You can have it as an elegant main course plated out, as in the photo, or as tacos or burritos. No matter how you choose to enjoy this dish, it is delicious.

Achiote seeds, also called annato, is a bright red seed used first as a dye, and more recently in food. It adds an earthy sourness to the dish along with a beautiful red color. More on this seed here. This cookbook, and restaurant in Napa, is amazing. Cindy was one of the first chefs to start and promote the farm-to-table movement. Her recipes highlight the fabulous produce that is available in the Napa valley region, from organic vegetables to farm raised chickens and grass fed beef and lamb. The recipes are from across the globe and everyone is fantastic. However, this cookbook is for those chefs who want to excel and this takes time in the kitchen. Some other amazing recipes from this cookbook here.


For the marinated chicken:

6 chicken breasts

1 tablespoon a achiote seeds ground to a fine powder in a coffee mill, or paste

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced

4 tablespoons olive oil

Corn or flour tortillas, pan cooked

For the mango salsa;

1 red bell pepper, roasted in the oven till soft, peeled, deseeded and finely diced

1 green chili, jalapeño, or other green chili, de-seeded and finely minced

2-3 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted and diced

1 tablespoon red onion, very fine dice

1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro, finely minced

1 tablespoon mint, finely minced

2 scallions, finely minced

1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

Juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons olive oil

Cilantro, minced

For the black beans:

1 cup black beans, soaked overnight

2 bay leaves

1 sprig epazote (if available)

1 tablespoon dried oregano, Mexican preferred

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups diced onions

4 cloves garlic, minced fine

1 pasilla chili, soaked overnight

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced into small pieces

Zest and juice of one orange

Zest and juice of one lime

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried red chili flakes, or to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Cilantro, minced

To marinate the chicken:

Halve the chicken breasts along the length and flatten them slightly with a mallet. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and mix in the chicken breasts. Marinate for 3 hours, though overnight is always better.

To make the salsa:

Mix all the ingredients and taste for sweetness, salt and spice. Adjust as needed. Let the flavors come together for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Store in the fridge for a maximum of 3 days. Sprinkle with the cilantro just before serving.

To make the black beans:

Drain the beans and add 4 cups water, some salt, bay leaves, epazote (if using), and oregano and bring to a simmer. Skim off the scum that rises to the top and cook for 18-20 minutes till the beans are cooked through but still have a bite. You do not want them completely mushy. Turn off the heat and cool retaining the liquid.

Meanwhile, de-stem the pasilla chili and remove all the seeds. Blitz in a small blender with the strained soaking liquids till smooth. Set aside.

Select a deep saucepan large enough to hold everything. Heat the oil and add the onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes till translucent, do not brown. Add the bell peppers and continue sautéing on medium heat till the peppers are cooked through and soft, about 6-8 minutes.

Add the puréed pasilla peppers, orange and lime zest, cumin, chili flakes, and pepper and continue sautéing for 2-3 minutes till the liquids have dried out and the spices smell aromatic.

Add the beans and the cooking liquids and bring to a simmer and cook gently for 15 minutes to develop the flavors. Take off the stove, add the orange and lime juices and mix in well. Taste and adjust salt as needed. It is best to allow the beans to sit for 2-3 hours, or even overnight, for the flavors to develop and integrate. Sprinkle with the cilantro just before serving.

To cook the chicken:

There are a number of ways to cook the chicken listed in the order of preference. The best way is to grill the chicken. Baste with leftover marinade as needed to keep the chicken moist. You can also broil the chicken in the oven, 8 inches below the top broiling element for 4-5 minutes, flip and another 3-4 minutes. The chicken should be cooked through and charred in spots. Finally, you can pan sauté the chicken with a touch of oil till cooked through and charred in spots.

To serve:

Heat the beans and ladle into a shallow wide bowl. Layer the hot chicken on top of the beans. Serve the salsa and tortillas on the side. ‘Alternatively, all the gif fervent elements can be served separately.

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