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 overnight and cook as usual – it gives them a beautiful smoky flavor.
I used it for the Yucatan Tostadas I recently made and it came out beautifully – both visually and in robust flavor.
Achiote and the Annatto Seed
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.