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It has been used in Central and South America for centuries for a variety of purposes. The most important use of the achiote seed is and has been as a dye. It gives a rich orange-yellow hue to the items it has been added to. Today, you will find it used to color butter, cheese and many other items that have an orange to yellow tint. Early Native Americans also used it as a body paint.
The achiote plant grows as either a large shrub or a small tree and has been valued for its medicinal and nutritional qualities by Native Americans. It has high concentrations of three different carotenoids which as anti-oxidants help clear the body of damaging free radicals. Natives for centuries used the whole plant to treat maladies such as diabetes, conjunctivitis, hepatitis and dermatitis.
For culinary purposes, achiote is generally used in a paste form. The most commonly found ingredients in the paste are ground achiote seeds, dried oregano, cumin, black peppercorns, allspice, and water. These ingredients will differ slightly by region and country.
Achiote paste is prized in Central and South American cooking for its unique color as well as its down-to-earth and slightly spicy flavor that it adds to many dishes. The Chopping Block carries an achiote paste from Los Chileros. I use it in this easy marinade:
Achiote Paste Marinade
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 2 limes
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh cracked black peppercorns
This simple marinade can be used for almost anything from beef to pork to chicken, as well as vegetables.
I marinated a nice piece of flank steak for about 30 minutes, but it could have gone as long as two hours.
I broiled the flank steak (unfortunately, it was raining all day or I would of grilled it over some nice hardwood charcoal) just until it was medium rare and allowed it to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. I served it with a black beans and brown rice pilaf that included red onion, roasted red peppers, zucchini and corn. This dish is perfect finished with some queso fresco cheese and chopped cilantro on top.
Do you have a favorite way of using achiote paste? If so, please share your ideas with me in the comments.
Bilton, P. (2011, May 20). Herbs: Annatto or Achiote; History and Nutritional Value. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
Cook’s Thesaurus: Hispanic Spices. (n.d.). Retrieved August 24, 2014.
Kennedy, D. (1989). The art of Mexican cooking: Traditional Mexican cooking for aficionados (pp. 427-430). New York: Bantam Books.
Ron Martin is a Chef-Instructor at The Chopping Block. His food background began in a small town in southeastern Indiana and quickly blossomed into a full on love of food and flavors. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and also has a degree in Elementary Education. He never misses an opportunity to expand his palate and learn new styles and foods. Ron's number one partner in his culinary adventures is his wife Sharon and sometimes their two teenagers. Besides working at TCB, he enjoys working on home improvement projects, making good beer, St. Louis Cardinals baseball, playing golf (poorly), and hanging out with his family, 2 dogs and 2 cats.