Achiote Chicken, also known as Pollo Pibil, is a rich and colorful Mexican recipe made with a unique blend of flavors from achiote paste or powder, citrus and spices.
What Is Pollo Pibil
Achiote chicken, also known as pollo pibil, is a traditional Mexican dish that originated in the Yucatan Peninsula. It gets its name from the achiote paste used to marinate the chicken, giving it its vibrant color and unique flavor.
There are many variations of this recipe, including the very popular Cochinita Pibil (Yucatán-style Barbecue Pork). The traditional method, which we’ve skipped for ease in making at home, is wrapping the meat in banana leaves and roasting in a pit.
Achiote has a rich history dating back to ancient civilizations, such as the Mayans and Aztecs, who used the annatto seeds for body paint, medicine, and culinary purposes. Today, achiote is a staple ingredient in Latin American, Caribbean, and Filipino cuisines, adding a burst of color and flavor to various dishes.
The achiote marinade is made from ground annatto seeds, spices, and citrus juice, and can be found in many Latin American grocery stores (or Amazon). For those wondering, achiote chicken is not a spicy dish despite the deep red color.
For this recipe you can utilize achiote paste or achiote powder (we use the Goya brand). We switch it up depending on what we have on-hand at the time. Both provide the rich and earthy flavors you’re going for.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Here are a few key ingredients required to make Pollo Pibil, along with substitution recommendations. For the full list of ingredients, reference the recipe card below:
Any cut of chicken will work well in this chicken recipe. Go for what you like. Other than cooking time, no edits to the recipe are needed.
Sour Orange Juice
Sour orange juice comes from the Seville orange, a varietal meant for using juice vs. eating like a fruit. You can find the bottled juice in Latin markets or online. Or, sub in equal parts orange juice with 1 tbsp of lime juice to add the “sour” profile.
As mentioned above you can use achiote paste or achiote powder. We provide instructions for both in the recipe card below. Both have the cumin and coriander you need for this dish.
How To Make
Only two steps are required to make this dish. You’re looking at only 10 minutes of hands on time.
Marinade The Chicken – Blend all the achiote sauce ingredients together, coat the chicken, and marinate.
Bake The Chicken – Bake for 45 minutes, or until the center reads 165°F – 170°F, in a large baking dish.
A few tips for making the flavorful achiote sauce.
- Don’t wear your nice clothes. The fiery red color will stain them up!
- Make sure you marinade the chicken for a minimum of 4 hours, up to 24 hours. It’s imperative the chicken marinade has a chance to penetrate the meat.
- Make the sauce up to 4 days in advance if you like to meal prep. Or freeze until ready to use.
There are a variety of ways you can highlight achiote chicken. Plating it with a side dish isn’t the only way to enjoy this classic Mexican dish. Using boneless chicken will allow you to easily make:
Achiote Chicken Tacos – serve with corn tortillas, pickled red onions, cilantro and lime.
Salad – throw on top of lettuce with your favorite salad toppings.
Rice Bowl – throw on top of rice with your favorite bowl toppings.
Burritos – tuck in a flour tortilla with rice, lettuce and your favorite burrito ingredients.
Spicy Chicken – throw in some cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes if you prefer a little heat to your meals.
Achiote Grilled Chicken – throw on the grill over medium-high heat. Place skin side down and grill for 30-35 minutes, flipping every 8-10 minutes, until the internal temperature registers over 165°F (preferably 175°F).
- If using regular orange and lime juice, use freshly-squeezed. It’s superior to bottled juice.
- If using achiote powder, make sure to marinate for at least 4 hours. If using achiote paste, you can get away with 2-3 as it clings to the meat better.
- If grilling, hold back 1/4 cup of the marinade, before it’s poured over the chicken, to use as a baster.
Side Dish Ideas
Serve achiote chicken with Mexican Pickled Carrots, rice, beans, potatoes or a simple side salad.
Store chicken achiote in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Here are some Mexican-themed drinks that would pair extremely well with this dish:
- ¼ cup sour orange juice (*Note 1)
- 2 tbsp achiote paste or powder (*Note 2)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp Mexican oregano (*Note 3)
- ⅛ tsp ground cloves (omit if using achiote paste) (*Note 4)
- 3½-4 lb chicken quarters (*Note 5)
Prepare The Chicken:
- Add all of the achiote sauce ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. If grilling, hold back 1/4 cup of the marinade, before it's poured over the chicken, to use as a baster.
- Add the chicken to a large Ziplock bag and pour in the sauce. Close the Ziploc, then use your hands to massage the bag to ensure the chicken pieces are evenly coated with sauce. Place the Ziplock in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours, up to 24 hours.
Bake The Chicken:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Transfer the chicken, with all the sauce, to a large baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the center reads 165°F - 170°F.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Grill The Chicken:
- Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and generously grease the grates.
- Place the chicken, skin side down, and grill for 30-35 minutes, flipping every 8-10 minutes, until the internal temperature registers over 165°F (preferably 175°F). Use the reserved marinade to baste the chicken before the final 10 minutes of cook time.
- Remove from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.