Every single Mexican restaurant where we ate in Mexico had Yucatan specialities, marinated in or cooked with achiote paste – pork, fish, chicken all featured the bright red marinade. The day before we came home, I went on a search. What better souvenir than the flavor of a region? I found a stash at an upscale grocery store at La Isla shopping mall in Cancun. I cleaned out the shelf.
But it turns out that it’s not hard to make your own or find authentic achiote paste right here in rural Virginia. The key ingredient is annatto seeds, which I hadn’t heard much about, but the other spices are readily available. This food.com recipe for homemade achiote paste seems like it would work well. Our local grocery store even has ground annatto seed in an achiote-type blend of spices. I am wondering why I searched Mexico for souvenir achiote. Now I’m going to have to do a side-by-side comparison.
The other ingredient that I have read quite a bit about is Seville orange juice, a sour version of the orange. It’s featured in this Chow recipe for achiote paste. Other recipes add the orange juice to the achiote paste when you start marinating. Alternatively, a combination of regular 1/2 cup orange juice and 1/4 cup grapefruit juice seems to be a substitute, perhaps with an extra tablespoon of lime juice. Again, our local grocery store – not known for a gourmet selection – had sour orange juice, no doubt a close relative of Seville orange juice.
The availability of seemingly exotic ingredients right at home here in the good ole USA points to the interplay of the global marketplace and the strong Mexican culture growing in the United States. As a child, Mexican food meant tortilla chips with guacamole. Now, it can mean so much more.