In 2013 I discovered the restaurant chain Wahaca on a day wandering around London, and this for me was when I started to really explore different types of Mexican food – before then fajitas were more or less about it. I remember the first visit, as we made an effort to order a selection of things which we hadn’t had before – including a cactus taco, pork pibil among other things (photographs below).
I’ve acquired a couple of the Thomasina Miers cookery books and over the last year or so and I’ve tried a few recipes (tinga de pollo being a favourite). To represent Mexico in my year of cooking different dishes from around the world I’ve chosen to have a go at pork pibil. This seems to be one of Wahaca’s best selling dishes, and you can find the recipe here. Part of the fun of cooking these different dishes is finding out about new ingredients – and for this one, something I’ve never cooked with before is achiote paste.
Achiote paste is a mixture of crushed achiote seeds (annatto) with salt, garlic, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, and some orange juice (there are lots of variations of this). It can be bought in paste form too. It’s used as a rub to add colour, and as a seasoning with meats like pork and chicken.
“Bixa orellana fruit open” by Leonardo Ré-Jorge
You can find it online from various places, including a Mexican store – Mexgrocer. We were planning to travel to Bristol this weekend so I was going to drop by Otomi to pick up a few supplies, including the achiote paste, but we decided to save that for another weekend, and instead went for a wander a bit closer to home in Birmingham. In the end I made my own achiote paste after finding the seeds on a stall in Birmingham bullring market.
The recipe I used for this involved: 2 tbsp annatto seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 5 allspice berries, 1 tsp salt, 1 pinch nutmeg, 2 garlic cloves, 125ml orange juice. To make the paste I ground the spices and then mixed them in a small food processor with the garlic and juice. The paste was then used to make the marinade for the pork, as explained in the recipe here.
After marinading overnight this morning the pork was cooked in the oven at a low temperature as per the recipe. I also decided to make the pink pickled onion slices to garnish the pork, and the mexican green rice to serve with it. To make these you just need to finely slice an onion, pour boiling water over them, and remove from the water after ten seconds. Then in a bowl place the onions, a chopped chilli (habanero if you have it), juice of 1 lime and 1 orange, season with salt and black pepper, mix together and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours. This makes a large amount which is more than enough for a six people.
For the mexican green rice you first need to rinse around 200g rice (I used basmati) and then cook it for around 10 minutes in 400ml of vegetable stock. Meanwhile, I blended an onion, a handful of fresh coriander leaves, and a handful of parsley leaves, a garlic clove and a green chilli (again habanero if you have it) in a small food processor to get a sort of green paste. When the rice was about ready I heated some oil in an ovenproof pan and then added the green paste to cook for around 5 minutes. Then I added the rice and any remaining liquid and mixed together. Then along with the other casserole dish I placed the pan in the oven for just under half an hour. This was enough to serve around 4 people.
The final result: rice, pork, pink pickled onions and some coriander leaves to garnish. The results went down well at lunch time.
For my culinary journey of 2016, Mexico now has it’s first flag.