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Pollo Pibil (Yucatecan Achiote Chicken)

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).

Low angle shot of pollo pibil on a corn tortilla with pickled onions, limes, lettuce, and cotija cheese

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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.

overhead shot of the ingredients needed to make pollo pibil

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
  • Onion
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat with the achiote marinade. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Low angle shot of pollo pibil on a corn tortilla with pickled onions, limes, lettuce, and cotija cheese

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

What is achiote paste?

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.

What can I substitute for achiote paste?

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.

What is sour orange juice?

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.

What can I substitute for sour orange juice?

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!

Is Pollo Pibil spicy?

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.

Can I cook the dish directly in a pot on the stovetop or in the oven?

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.

Where can I buy banana leaves?

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.

Overhead shot of pollo pibil on a corn tortilla with pickled onions, limes, lettuce, and cotija cheese
Yield: Serves 6

Pollo Pibil

Overhead shot of pollo pibil on a corn tortilla with pickled onions, limes, lettuce, and cotija cheese

Pollo Pibil is a deeply flavorful dish from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. With complex flavors of achiote paste (made from ground annatto seeds), sour orange juice, and spices, this chicken is infused with flavor and rich orange color (from the achiote paste).

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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. 
  2. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat. Let marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. Place the marinated chicken (along with the marinade) into the foil bowl and wrap up the sides of the foil to make a packet.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Serve the chicken with warm corn tortillas, pickled red onion, salsa, cilantro, and other toppings as desired.

Nutrition Information

Yield

6

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 266Total Fat 12gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 8gCholesterol 184mgSodium 478mgCarbohydrates 4gFiber 0gSugar 3gProtein 37g

Nutrient values are estimates only. Variations may occur due to product availability and manner of food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

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By on October 21st, 2021

About Robin Donovan


Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 40 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners, 5 Ingredient Cooking for Two, Sushi at Home, The Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and other popular publications.

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