What is it that gives some Latin food that rich, deep red color? Achiote seeds!
Achiote (annatto) seeds are from the annatto bush/shrub. They are dried and used whole or ground as a spice and give an earthy, peppery flavor in Latin cuisines. You can buy it in paste form as well. Buy brightly colored red-orange seeds, not brown seeds, as they are past their time and have lost their full flavor. I find these in a local Latin market.
The Achiote paste can be mixed with citrus juices and rubbed into chicken, pork or fish then let it marinate for 4-6 hours and cook as usual – it gives them a beautiful smoky flavor. Be aware! I always use latex gloves now when working with the paste. It will stain your fingers and is hard to crumble, the gloves help keep your grip and keep your fingers clean. I used it for the Yucatan Tostadas I recently made and it came out beautifully – both visually and in robust flavor.
Achiote seeds can be steeped in cooking oil, infusing it with a rich, deep red color and flavor. The Achiote oil, or achiotina, will keep for a few months stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Sautéing in or cooking with the oil colors the dish a rich yellow/red, it’s what gives the yellow color to chorizo! You can also add it to fresh masa for flavor and color and press your own tortillas as I did for the Chicken Tostadas I made last night.
Easy recipe: I steeped 1 cup of vegetable oil with 1/2 cup achiote seeds in a Pyrex measuring cup set in the microwave for 2 minutes set on High. Let stand until it comes to room temperature and strain oil from seeds into a squeeze bottle. You can discard the seeds. I pick up a plastic squeeze bottle at the kitchen store and use that to squeeze out as needed near my stove top.
Both the seeds and ground annatto will keep a long time, up to 3 years, under proper storage. I keep mine in an airtight plastic container and store in my spice cabinet away from direct light.