The taste of the Yucatán is the distinctive, earthy flavor of pib-il, made from a marinade of red achiote and the curious but essential bitter orange. Pib means “pit” in the Mayan language, but you can easily duplicate the effect in a home oven with this marinade and a banana-leaf wrap. Bitter orange, a citrus fruit that grows in parts of Mexico, is used widely in the cooking of the Yucatán peninsula. If you can’t find a bitter orange, stir together 1 Tbs. fresh orange juice, 1 Tbs. fresh grapefruit juice and 2 tsp. fresh lime juice to use in its place.
Pibil-Style Baked Chicken
For the pickled red onions:
- 1 habanero chile
- 2 small red onions, thinly sliced
- Boiling water
- 1/3 cup (2 1/2 fl. oz./75 ml) fresh lime juice
- 2 garlic cloves, slightly smashed
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/8 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
For the chicken:
- 1 large chicken, about 4 lb. (2 kg), skin on and cut into 4 pieces (2 leg-and-thigh pieces and 2 breast halves)
- 2 Tbs. fresh bitter orange juice (see above)
- 2 tsp. achiote paste whisked with 2 tsp. water
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Fine sea salt
- 9 pieces banana leaves, each about 16 inches (40 cm) square, defrosted if frozen
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tomatoes, thickly sliced
- 1 small chile, seeded and cut lengthwise into narrow strips
- 1 cup (100 g) Pickled Red Onions (page 139)
1. To make the pickled red onions, place an aluminum foil–lined heavy fry pan over medium-high heat. Place the chile on the foil and roast until the flesh is soft and the skin is blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes. Set aside to let cool.
2. Place the onion slices in a heatproof bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let soak for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain well, transfer to a small bowl and toss with the lime juice, garlic, 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper and the oregano. Tuck the chile under the onions and let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
3. Before serving, retrieve the chile and place it on top of the onion slices. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
4. To make the chicken, prick the chicken skin in several places with the tip of a sharp knife. In a small bowl, stir together the bitter orange juice, diluted achiote paste, garlic and 1 tsp. salt. Rub the chicken pieces all over with the mixture, then place in a sealable plastic bag, close and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
5. Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C).
6. Lay out 8 of the banana-leaf pieces, shiny side up. Tear the remaining leaf into 8 strips, 1/2 inch (12 mm) wide, to use as ties (they may need to be knotted together). Remove the chicken from the plastic bag, reserving the marinade. Layer half of the onion and tomato slices in the centers of 4 of the leaves. Top with a piece of the marinated chicken and a few strips of the chile. Top with the remaining onion and tomato slices. Drizzle on some of the marinade. Cover with another leaf, shiny side down, folding the edges together to seal. Tie each packet together with the ties.
7. Cut 4 pieces of aluminum foil, each about 12 by 14 inches (30 by 35 cm). Wrap each banana-leaf packet in a piece of foil and tightly crimp the edges until completely sealed. Place the packets on a baking sheet.
8. Bake the packets for 30 minutes, then turn over and cook for 20 minutes more. Remove 1 packet from the oven, open it, and use a knife to cut into the thickest part of the chicken; it should be opaque throughout. If it is not, rewrap and return to the oven for a few minutes. more
9. To serve, remove the foil and place each banana-leaf packet on an individual plate. Open the packets, top each portion with one-fourth of the pickled onions, and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Bring a true taste of Mexico to your table with our mouthwatering collection of down-home dishes in, Rustic Mexican, by Deborah Schneider.