This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my Affiliate Disclosure.
Pollo Pibil is a deeply flavorful dish from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. With complex flavors of achiote paste (made from ground annatto seeds), sour orange juice, and spices, this chicken is full of flavor and rich orange color (from the achiote paste).
What is Pollo Pibil
All over the Yucatán Peninsula, you’ll find variations of this dish, including the more famous pork version called Cochinita Pibil or Puerco Pibil. The foundation of the dish is the combination of achiote paste and sour orange juice. The traditional method is to wrap the meat in banana leaves and roast it in a pit.
This version incorporates the flavors of Pibil. But since most of us probably don’t have a roasting pit in our backyards, I make my version in a pot on the stove or in an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker.
For this version, I wrap the meat in foil. The foil-wrapped meat cooks using steam heat (or pressure cooking). The meat essentially roasts inside the foil, but the steam provides a high-temperature environment that is also moist.
I use foil to wrap the chicken, but if you have access to banana leaves, I highly recommend adding a layer of banana leaves inside of the foil as they add flavor to the dish.
What ingredients do you need to make Pollo Pibil?
It’s amazing to me how few ingredients you need to make this Pollo Pibil. Just a few spices and seasonings are all it takes to give the chicken intense flavor.
- Skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- Sour orange juice (or use a combo of regular orange juice and lime juice)
- Achiote paste
- Garlic cloves
- Dried oregano
- Ground cumin
- Ground cinnamon or allspice (optional)
How do you make it?
This Pollo Pibil is super easy to make. You can cook it in a stockpot or Dutch oven on the stovetop or in an Instant Pot or other Electric Pressure Cooker. Here’s how:
- Make the pibil marinade by combining the achiote paste, orange juice, lime juice, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon. Mix well. If the achiote paste is too stiff to combine, use an immersion blender or small food processor.
- Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat with the achiote marinade. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Place a steamer rack in the bottom of a stockpot, Dutch oven, or Instant Pot. Add 1 ½ cups water to the pot. Create a foil bowl inside the pot.
- Add the meat, along with the achiote sauce, to the foil bowl. Wrap the foil around the meat. You’ll need to use at least 3 long pieces of foil to ensure the packet is sealed well.
- To cook in a stockpot or Dutch oven: Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 90 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and very tender. When finished cooking, remove from the heat. Remove the lid and let stand for 10 minutes or so before opening up the foil to serve the chicken.
- To cook in an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker: Cover and seal the pot and pressure cook for 45 minutes. When the cooking time is up, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes. Then quick release any remaining pressure.
- Serve hot with warm tortillas and you favorite toppings. Try habanero salsa, pickled red onions, shredded lettuce, fresh cilantro, and anything else you like on your tacos.
What do you serve with Pollo Pibil?
Serve the chicken pibil with warm corn tortillas (or flour tortillas), pickled onions, mango habanero salsa, Instant Pot Refried Beans, Instant Pot Black Beans, Elote, or Mexican Street Corn Salad.
Let diners fill their own tacos with Pollo Pibil and top how they like. Offer cilantro, queso fresco or cotija, pickled red onions, pickled habanero pepper, sliced avocado or guacamole, and other toppings as desired.
Pollo Pibil Frequently Asked Questions
Achiote paste is a spice paste made of ground achiote seeds (or annatto seeds), which are a rich burnt orange color and nutty, earthy flavors. You can buy achiote paste (also called Recado Rojo) in small bricks in any Latin American grocery store, in some supermarkets, or buy achiote paste online.
If you can’t find achiote paste, you can make a substitute paste using 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon saffron, and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. This combination will give you a nice orange-y red color, and the spices will add some of the earthiness and nuttiness that you’ll lose by not adding achiote paste.
Sour orange juice comes from the Seville orange or bitter orange, which are distinguished by their bumpy peels and sour juice (sour oranges are only used for their juice rather than to eat like other fruit). You can buy bottled sour orange juice in Latin markets, some supermarkets, or buy sour orange juice online.
If you don’t have sour orange juice, you can substitute a combination of citrus flavors. Mix regular orange juice with lime juice, lemon juice, and/or grapefruit juice. The flavor won’t be exactly the same, but will still be delicious!
Pollo Pibil is packed with lots of intense flavor, but it is not spicy as in hot spicy. It is tangy, earthy, a little sweet, and has flavors of spices like cumin and cinnamon or allspice. Because habanero peppers are a staple in Yucatecan cuisine, they are often served alongside Pollo Pibil or in a salsa meant to be added at the table, but the dish itself doesn’t have any hot chile peppers.
You can cook this dish on the stovetop by putting the chicken and marinade into a Dutch oven or stockpot (without wrapping and steaming). Add a cup of water or broth to the pot with the chicken and simmer at very low temperature, covered, for 50 to 60 minutes.
You can buy banana leaves in Latin American markets, Asian markets, or buy banana leaves online. You can store any extras in an airtight resealable bag in the freezer.
- 1 3 ½-ounce package achiote paste (achiote rojo or annatto paste))
- ¾ cup sour orange juice or regular orange juice
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- In a large bowl, combine the achiote paste, orange juice, lime juice, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon and mix well. If the achiote paste is in a hard clump, let it soak in the citrus juice for a while to soften it.
- Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat. Let marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Place a steamer rack in the bottom of a stockpot, Dutch oven, or Instant Pot and add 1 ½ cups water to the pot. Lay a long piece of aluminum foil in the pot on top of the steamer rack. Lay a second long piece of aluminum foil over the first so that the two form a cross. Lay a third piece of foil over making an X with the second piece. Push the foil down into the pot so that the 3 pieces of foil make a sort of bowl shape.
- Place the marinated chicken (along with the marinade) into the foil bowl and wrap up the sides of the foil to make a packet.
- To cook in a stockpot or Dutch oven: Place the lid on the pot and set it over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Steam for about 90minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and very tender. When finished cooking, remove from the heat, remove the lid, and let stand for 10 minutes or so before opening up the foil to serve the chicken.
- To cook in an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker: Cover and seal the pot and set to pressure cook for 45 minutes. When the cooking time is up, let the pressure release naturally for about 10 minutes, then quick release any remaining pressure.
- Serve the chicken with warm corn tortillas, pickled red onion, salsa, cilantro, and other toppings as desired.
4 thoughts on “Pollo Pibil (Yucatecan Achiote Chicken)”
Yum! This looks delicious! And I can make this for my low-carb diet.
Tried this with the instant pot method. For some reason the chicken was still raw after 45 mins of high pressure cooking inside the foil… I’ll try some additional time
Sounds like an issue with your Instant Pot? If the pot comes to pressure and goes for 45 minutes, there’s no way the chicken would be raw?
Yea I think you’re right. Sorry about that!
I think I had it on the lower setting. I did additional time on the instant pot (and set it to high setting) and it came out great! Party in my mouth 🙂 Thank you 😋