16 March 2014

Weddings, Sand, and Pibil Chicken. An Exploration into Yucatan Cuisine

Pibil Chicken with Pickled Onions
The last time I ventured to the Mayan Riviera on the Yucatan Peninsula my daughter L'il Burnt Toast was 13 years old. In true More Than Burnt Toast style we spent very little time in the comfort of our resort preferring to explore up and down the coast,  clambering over Mayan ruins,  conquering the jungle and snorkelling the coral reefs amongst thousands of colourful fish. The most memorable moments were spent exploring every inch of the small island of Isla Mujeres by golf cart with spectacular views around every corner. This past month we ventured back there together under very different circumstances.

This is where my daughter married her soulmate at a beautiful resort near Playa del Carmen. It was not a beach wedding as you would imagine but an elegant church wedding on the grounds. With such spectacular scenery most people do opt for a beach front wedding in the Riviera Maya, and with miles and miles of jaw dropping white sand beaches that is totally understandable, but there are other options such as a chapel like this one. It was a stunning choice.



My daughters wedding was a week long celebration, and to us it was the most meaningful ceremony I have ever witnessed. What made it powerful for everyone attending was the sense that these two young people are truly soul mates; that this marriage will stand the test of time. During the ceremony there were two large butterflies fluttering against the cathedral windows. In some cultures butterflies are considered extreme good luck; or perhaps they were a visit from their guardian angels. No matter what we choose to believe, it was a special ceremony celebrating the love and commitment of these two young people who have known each other for over six years surrounded by family and friends.

What also made the week special was that my sister and I "bunked" together. We live on opposite sides of the country and it was a week filled with laughter and tears. There was a lot of hugging going on. Those of you who know me know that when travelling I cannot stay put for long. I feel a deep seated urge to get out and explore the countryside, meet the people, and investigate the culture…and of course the food. You know I dragged my sister along with me on every adventure!!! Well maybe not dragged, for she was a willing participant.


One day we found ourselves in a small van on our way to local Mayan ruins further inland. In order to travel back in time and experience the ancient Mayan culture you must journey inland to Valladolid. Valladolid is half way between the Caribbean Coast and some of Mexico’s most renowned and important archaeological sites including Chichėn Itzá.

Authentic is a word that is frequently used when describing Valladolid on the Yucatan Peninsula. Time appears to stand still. Sitting in the central square beneath the welcoming shade of the laurel trees we had the opportunity to watch the world go by. The silence was interrupted only occasionally by the hum of scooters weaving among brightly coloured taxis and vintage Volkswagen bugs and the laughter of children as they played. A man on horseback poked out of an alley and clip-clopped down the street reminding you that traveling to Valladolid gives you the ability to experience the rich culture and cuisine of Mexico as it should be experienced at a more leisurely pace.

We ventured down the Calzada de los Frailes, to "Cacao" an organic chocolate collective that produces handmade chocolates, drawing from a tradition that goes back to the ancient Mayans. Farther down the street is the Convento de San Bernardino de Siena, built in the 16th century. Here, we wandered within its stone walls at sunset, exploring the dark stairways as the fading light streamed in through small windows, imagining the hermetic life of the Spanish monks who resided there centuries ago.

Culturally speaking, Valladolid has a layered authenticity. The city is deeply Mayan, from their cuisine that is a dance between sweet and spicy and "heavy on the beans", to the guttural consonants of the Mayan language heard on its streets. Many women still wear the comfortable traditional Mayan "huipil" or white cotton blouses or dresses adorned with bright, flowered embroidery and sold in places like the Mercado de Artesanias, a block from the city’s beautiful, newly refurbished Parque Principal, or central square.



Valladolid is also distinctly Spanish. Founded by invading Spaniards in 1543, its colonnades, pastel coloured stucco and cobblestoned streets give Valladolid an Iberian feel. The central cathedral, a fortress of ascetic Franciscan architecture, is standing room only on Sunday evenings. As in Spain, shops are often shuttered each afternoon for siesta under the hot blazing tropical sun.


The Yucatan peninsula's relative isolation from the rest of the country, coupled with strong Mayan influences, have resulted in a distinctive Mexican regional cuisine, having ingredients and techniques found nowhere else in the country. Achiote (the seeds from the Annatto flower), Chaya (a shrub also known as tree spinach) and Habanero chillies are some of the regional ingredients, and together with Recados (local rubs or marinades that contain dried chilies, spices, herbs and vinegar and are applied to meats and poultry) you have the main pillars of this unique cuisine. Speaking with some of the locals they mentioned that they picked pods from their achiote tree and broke them open to use the seeds for the freshest flavour. For the rest of us, buy it in a  3 ½ ounce brick in a small paper box at a Mexican market, or in my case at the Asian Grocers. They have everything!!!!
Fish tacos with grouper; Pibil Chicken with Pickled onions at Mesón del Marqués ; making guacamole table side;Sangria
Our van stopped for a late lunch at Mesón del Marqués a lovely old hacienda turned hotel ideally situated on the zocalo. We sat in the charming restaurant where they prepared guacamole right before our eyes. I don't know if it is the best food I have ever tasted on the Yucatan but it was a charming setting and the perfect way to end a busy day. Here I had my first taste of Chicken Pibil and decided there and then that I needed to recreate it at home.

In Maya, "al pibil" is a technique of slow roasting a variety of meats underground that has been in use for centuries in the Yucatan region. Meats that are cooked in a "pib" are wrapped in banana leaves which keep the meat tender and moist while imparting a unique flavour. The pib, traps in steam and smoke to create its own nuance. Not possessing  shovel or a back yard to dig a "pib" I vowed I must try and recreate this authentic Yucatan dish in my own kitchen. The sleepy peninsula wakes up in the city of Valladolid where modern life meets ancient culture. Just like the way your taste buds will come alive when they first taste pollo pibil, an ancient Mayan meal that meets modern ways of cooking.

Yucatán cooks also use sour oranges in the "pibil"dishes, called "su’uts’ pak’áal" in the Mayan language. To me these are known as Seville oranges. Since they are impossible to find here I turned to the experts who have found that a combination of orange, lime, grapefruit, and possibly lemon juices simulate the flavour profile.

Elegantly served in the leaf, the tender chicken, and it's intoxicating aromas take over the kitchen. The "recado rojo", or achiote paste, is the shining star of the Yucatán, and does it's duty in making this pollo pibil version a standout meal. On top of that, the amazing colour from the annato seed in the paste is outstanding. The chicken is traditionally served with red onions which have been pickled with salt and lime juice. You will find the recipe below.

This recipe is loosely based on one I found on the Hispanic Kitchen  I also removed the skin from the bone-in breasts. Be sure to marinate your chicken for at least 2 hours or overnight for full flavour. Serve with warm tortillas, beans or corn, and the pickled onions to round out the meal. I served it with a Mexican style quinoa dish, a recipe you will find another time.

**Pibil Chicken (Pollo Pibil)**
Recipe based on Hispanic Kitchen

4 bone-in chicken breasts, skin removed if you wish
2 tablespoons recado rojo (achiote paste)
½ cup orange juice
½ cup lime juice
½ cup grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 cloves garlic, roasted and peeled
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups (or 1 can) chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
2 green, red or yellow peppers
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
3 small Banana Leaves, soaked for 30 minutes (can be found at most Latino markets)

Pickled onions:

1 red onion
1 tablespoon salt (I like to use sea salt)
Juice from 3 limes

For the Chicken: Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Combine the recado, orange juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, vinegar, roasted garlic closes, cumin, allspice, chicken broth in the food processor and season with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth.

Pour marinade from the processor into a zip top bag and add chicken breasts. Turn bag to be ensure pieces are covered and refrigerate at least 2 hours or  overnight.

Lay banana leaves on the counter and place a handful of onions sprinkled along the bottom of each one. Top onions with chopped tomatoes and sliced peppers.

Remove chicken from marinade and place in the banana leaves breast side down. Fold the banana leaf to create a package. Tie with a piece of leaf or place the folds of the chicken packet facing down on the bottom of a roasting pan that will fit them all. (If banana leaves are not available, you can always use aluminum foil).

Fill pan with boiling water to about 1-2 inches deep. Cover packets with an additional banana leaf and roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove packets from the oven and slit or untie before serving.

Serves 4

For the Pickled Onions: After you put the chicken in the marinade, make the pickled onions. Slice a red onion thinly.  Put a layer of onions in a ceramic bowl and sprinkle with salt. Continue to layer with salt, using  a total of 1tablespoon. Squeeze 3 limes over the onions.  Mix with your fingers, and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to marinate until chicken is cooked. The onions will soften when pickled. Stir every so often while the onions are pickling. Serve with the chicken.


You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips

56 comments:

  1. Wonderful post Val and congratulations to the mother-of-the-bride!

    Those fish tacos look awesome. They were my favourite thing to eat in Cabo. I think I had them every single day for lunch when I was there :-)

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    1. Thanks Laura. I want to go back so badly, another trip planning is in the works.

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  2. Congratulations! Looks like a beautiful wedding.

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  3. OMG! I knew your daughter got married in Mexico, but it must have been all Greek to me - until I just got back from Playa del Carmen myself - and am just amidst getting my cooking class there posted. I must talk to you - where did you stay - what a brilliant read - I cannot wait to go back. I LOVED IT THERE! So vastly different than my experience in Oahu. I thought the tropics just weren't for me - but I was wrong. It was Oahu that just wasn't for me - as this place, I need to return to. Must talk. I want that blue and white dish with the lid.

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    1. There were several cooking class I would have loved to take in both Puerto Moreles as well as Playa. There is even a cooking class in the home of a local on Cozumel. But my passion is to go to Merida and attend Los Dos cooking school and discover so much more.

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    2. PS The blue and white pot was actually made in Mexico but purchased here at a store that no longer exists, but I love the colours too. I want to get together a group of ladies to travel to Merida and stay in a house, and attend some classes and tours interested?

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  4. Congratulations to the married couple! What a gfabulous place to get married.

    That pibil chicken looks delicious.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Thank you Rosa. I didn't really know what to expect from a wedding in Mexico but the resort did an amazing job with every detail.

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  5. i love the colours on the plate, and those blouses are really me - what a fabulous celebration

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    1. It gets so hot I imagine the blouses to be very cooling Maria.

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  6. What a lovely place for a wedding and how nice that you got to stay with your sister. Sounds like a great family time. The food there sounds wonderful and it so colorful too. Congratulations to your daughter and her husband.
    Sam

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    1. Being isolated the Yucatan had its own cuisine. It was fascinating Sam. I plan a trip, perhaps in September to immerse myself in the culture.

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  7. Hi Val, And when you go to take the class in Merida and determine that you would like friends to accompany you, add me to your list! Beautiful post. Congrats to you and the bride and groom! I just love how you write..you describe a scene and draw us into a bit of history of the place with a turn here and there or small sidetracks. You then tie it all together with a taste of the region. Thank you for putting yet another pin on my world map of places I would like to go.

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    1. I am really wanting to take a trip to Mexico and plan a trip perhaps in September. Rent a house in the city, tours and cooking classes. I would love to have you along Bonnie.

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  8. What a fantastic wedding - stunning pictures. Congratulations to the happy couple (your daughter looked amazing) Congrats to you too Mother-of-the-bride!
    Val this is a truly lovely looking dish - I have to give this a go.

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    1. It was so fun to make Bonnie. I love to learn as I am cooking.

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  9. What a treat your post is this morning! It reminds me of what I loved about Gourmet Magazine years ago--informative travel writing accompanied by wonderful photographs. Best wishes to your beautiful daughter and her new husband!

    Best,
    Bonnie

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    1. Thanks Bonnie, I would have loved to stay longer.

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  10. Everything looks SO gorgeous! And the flavors in this dish sound amazing!

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  11. I love weddings and especially our daughters:)
    There is such a feeling..
    It shows in your words.. she looks beautiful:)
    Great that you were able to see so much too!
    My daughter has vacationed in Isla Mujeres and their friends continue every yr..

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    1. Thank you Monique. Weddings are pretty special. So much thought and individual personality go into each one. I love Isla Mijueres.

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  12. What an exotic trip Val. Congratulations to your beautiful daughter and her husband. The setting seemed perfect for their special union. I loved reading of your adventure and love the recipes. I have been using pickled onions with many of the Mexican dishes I have prepared lately. Will have to try this as soon as I locate banana leaves at my Asian market.

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    1. Thank you Penny. The dish was the perfect blend of exotic. If you can't find banana leaves you can always use aluminum foil.

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  13. What a fun adventure. Your daughter looks lovely and the pictures are vibrant and beautiful. The chicken looks and sounds fantastic!

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  14. Val, you lead a rich and blessed life. What a glorious thing to see your daughter marry the right person too!

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  15. Beautiful pictures! Congratulations to your daughter. I enjoyed reading this post and it's making me want to go on vacation there soon!

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  16. Congrats to your lil burnt toast. What a beautiful bride (and her dress!!! So gorgeous!!!)...and elegant, lovely wedding.

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  17. Congratulations on a beautiful wedding. Sounds like it was a lot of fun!

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  18. Your daughter had a stunning wedding. It looks very elegant and bright. You know, it makes me feel like preparing a wedding for myself. One day, maybe. In case, it would be in Yucatan. Never been to Mexico, never eaten local Yucatan food. Looks like heaven...

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    1. You really must experience Mexico some time Daniela!!

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  19. Oh Val, I am just so thrilled for you to share these beautiful and amazing experiences with your sister, your daughter, and so many other loves. What a magical and inspiring time you had. :-) XO

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    1. Thank you Krista. It really was a special time!

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  20. Love this post Val and congrats for your daugther's !! all look beautiful and Im sure you had a lovely times Val!
    beauty post!

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  21. I love the chapel Val!! beautiful!!

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  22. What a lovely destination for a wedding! The chapel is beautiful as well as your daughter. The cheery coral bridesmaids dresses are the perfect color. How wonderful also that you got to spend so much time with your sister traveling around the area and tasting the local food. Congratulations to you, your daughter and new son-in-law.

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  23. What a beautiful spot for a wedding! I love re-creating dishes that I have tasted and enjoyed whilst travelling and this chicken dish looks really interesting and packed full of flavour.

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  24. Such a beautiful wedding. I rejoiced for all of you when i saw the photos on FB -- and the start of this post made me teary. A joyous time -- only enhanced by it being a 'destination' wedding. Que viva Mexico!

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  25. Your daughter makes the most beautiful bride Val, she is a stunner! Love the colors of the bridesmaid dresses and all the flavors in your dish. Congratulations to all of you!

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    1. Thanks Marie. It was a special week.

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  26. Another wonderfully evocative post. Did you make it back to Isla Mujeres? I too went there a long time ago and wondered how much it's changed. It certainly must have, though I hope not. GREG

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    1. With the wedding we never made it back to Isla Mujeres Greg. What I do know is that there was a hurricane and all of the palm trees were uprooted on the beach and coral was damaged at Garrifon. Lying in a hammock at Buhos was a dream, although I hear it is not want it used to be. Needless to say memories are free:D

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  27. Val, the wedding pictures look like a dream. Your daughter is so beautiful. I like destination weddings, they become a week long celebration rather than just a dinner and a dance. The recipe looks great too. The pickled onions are a Mexican favourite, they serve it with whole fried snapper in Akumal, we make a few excursions there every year.

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    1. All I did for the wedding was show up. Mexico beckons.

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  28. I remember as a young teen going into my first fancy "authentic" Mexican restaurant. I had never learned Spanish before (beyond what you learn on "Sesame Street") and I remember thinking how good the "Tacos de Conchinita Pibil" sounded. However, I made such a huge fool of myself trying to pronounce it. I remember that night I was excited to try the dish, but I had foolishly filled up on tortilla chips and salsa beforehand. The next time I went back I exercised restraint on the chips and ordered it again, practicing my Spanish first.

    I have only ever been to Mexico twice and that was via cruise ship. I remember on the first trip we docked at Cozumel, took a tender to Playa Del Carmen, and then took a bus to Xcaret Park. I ate at one of their open air restaurants and enjoyed my Tacos de Conchinita Pibil once more. I think that was the best Mexican meal I ever ate (being in a beautiful place in warm weather always makes food taste better, doesnt' it?)

    I always had it with pork. I should definitely try your chicken version, which SPP would enjoy much more!

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  29. I have yet to try the pork, but there is just so much more to explore in the way of food,

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  30. It looks like such a beautiful week away. How nice that you were able to get out and explore the way that makes your soul happy.

    This recipe sounds interesting - I wonder where I might find achiote paste? HMMMM

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    1. I found my paste at our Asian market Jerry(they have everything) but TO is much bigger.

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  31. Congratulations on the wedding - may they enjoy many many years of happiness! That chicken looks really good, and onions pickled that way are a great addition many a meal around here - thanks for the reminder!

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    1. I love the pickled onions too Donalyn. I have in mind to make a halibut dish in the style.

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  32. What a lovely place for a wedding and congratulations and much joy to your daughter! The food looks divine as well. Cheers! J+C

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  33. Congratulations, what a beautiful place to have a wedding. Loved the post as I felt I was exploring with you and your sister.

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  34. I know we would travel well together Karen if we ever had the opportunity.

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  35. What a wonderful post. you must have had an absolutely wonderful time. Your photos are wonderful, and I love the wedding shots1

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  36. What a fantastic wedding. I really like the chapel, it's beautiful. It must have been such an incredible week. Congratulations to your daughter! And you spent the week with your sister, that must have been such a great time.

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Welcome to my home. Thank you so much for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your comments, suggestions, daily encouragement and support.

Val

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