Yesterday while I was volunteering at my local Christian ministry my friend tossed me a brand new box of this Achiote Paste and said “here, you’re the cook – figure out what to do with this”. I was intrigued and set out to do just that. Now that I know what it is, I’ll search out some recipes to go with it.
Commonly known as annatto seed in the States, the correct term for the seeds of an annatto tree is achiote seeds. Native to South America, they have been used to color food and cosmetics. These seeds have a peppermint scent and a slightly peppery taste with just a hint of bitterness. This seed grows on the annato tree. It is used primarily in Mexican and Caribbean cooking to impart a rich yellow/orange color. Annato seed makes a good substitute for saffron’s golden coloring, at a fraction of the cost. It does NOT, however, duplicate saffron’s unique flavor!
The seeds can be ground and added to soups and stews or made into a paste to be spread on fish or pork before grilling. It’s a tough process to work with annatto, as the dried seeds are very hard and quite difficult to grind.
Another popular use for annato seeds is to make achiote oil. Cook the seeds in hot oil until their skin dissolves. When the oil turns bright yellow, discard the seeds and use the oil for cooking.
To make paste:
Cover seeds with water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for 3 minuts. Remove from heat and let stand for a couple of hours. Drain and pat dry using a paper towel so as to not stain a clothe one. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind to a paste.
The seeds can also be ground with garlic and any variety of chili peppers for adobo paste.
Annatto seeds have been used as a dye for fabrics and body paint since pre-Columbian times.
Annatto Paste Recipe
In a small to medium saucepan, heat the olice oil over medium heat. Add the annatto seeds and cook, stirring constantly, until the oil becomes a rich, orange-red color, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool
Strain the annatto oil into the bowl of a food processor or blender, and add the lime juice, oregano, garlic, salt and cumin. Process the mixture on high to form a smooth paste. Pour into a glass jar and keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
I found this great recipe from In the Kitchen with Mary Sue and Susan:
This sauce is a key ingredient in our Guatemalan Tamales, but it is also a flavorful liquid to use when poaching scallops, fish, or eggs.
Makes 2 1/2 cups
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons achiote paste*, crumbled
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the onions until soft and translucent, 12 to 15 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and tomato and achiote pastes and cook an additional 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chicken stock, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring and skimming frequently, 12 to 15 minutes.
Add the vinegar and cook for a final 2 to 3 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor. Store in the refrigerator 2 to 3 days.
* Achiote paste is a bright orange seasoning paste from the Yucatan made of ground annatto seeds, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, pepper and cloves. It is often thinned with vinegar or citrus juices for marinades and sauces and should always be cooked first to remove any chalkiness. This is what produces the bright orange color often found in Mexican food, so be sure to wash off any utensils that touch it or they just might remain orange. The paste is sold in bricks and can be kept well wrapped in the refrigerator for a long time.