My trip to the Yucatan peninsula was only slightly less cliched than college spring break, as it was where my husband and I went for our honeymoon. And while we of course spent some time at the beach, we made sure to see the rest of the region as well, making our way across the peninsula to stop in Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and Merida. I’d been dreaming about visiting a Mayan pyramid since I read this book in high school. (Yes, I read that book in high school, which answeres any lingering questions you may have had about my nerdiness level).
Chichen Itza’s did not disappoint, even as I confronted mortal fear while inching back down the steep staircase from the summit, hands gripped tightly to the safety rope. (Not all found this so terrifying: a group of French high school students at one point ran down right past me, the contrast which was not lost on my husband).
Valladolid is a charming colonial city nestled amidst a verdant jungle, while Merida is beautiful with Spanish-style architecture, friendly people, and a town center that stages a cultural event every night. Merida is also home of a my dear friend Cielo who I met when she was an exchange student at my university, and who explained to me that the yucatecos have their own cuisine, personality, and regional pride. They were once (or twice!) even a separate country from the rest of Mexico. Since I grew up just over the Texas border in Oklahoma, I’ve heard this type of story before.
As I try to learn more about Mexican food, Yucatecan food is obviously a good place to start. (Claro, Cielo would say). When Saveur’s Mexico issue arrived just in time for our wedding anniversary, this recipe immediately went on the list. And whatever its origin, marinating chicken in three kinds of citrus with about half the contents of my spice cupboard was just guaranteed to be worth it.
Like my salsa verde, this recipe also gave me another chance to use my grill pan (which is great: this means you can make it now even if you’ve put the barbecue away, or if like us you don’t have a barbecue at all). Those black grill marks still color and flavor your chicken, which is tender and delicious from the hours it has spent bathing in orange, lime, and grapefruit juice.
The accidental arrangement of my cilantro and tomato garnish even made me think a bit of the Mexican flag.
Since I made this as a pre-anniversary dinner, I was thrilled by how much my husband and I both enjoyed it, and even better we got to reminisce about our honeymoon, already 8 years ago now. I think we may have started a good tradition here.
- 1½ t ground coriander
- 1½ t dried oregano
- 1½ t kosher salt
- 1½ t ground black pepper
- ¾ t ground cumin
- ⅛ t ground cloves
- ⅛ t ground allspice
- ⅛ t ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela (available at ranchogordo.com)
- ½c orange juice
- ½c grapefruit juice
- 6 T fresh lime juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced, plus 10 whole cloves, peeled
- 3 pounds chicken parts
- 2 Anaheim chiles, stemmed
- 1T lard or vegetable oil
- 2 medium white onions, halved and cut into ½”-thick slices
- 1 cups chicken stock
- Warm tortillas, for serving
- In a small bowl, combine coriander, oregano, salt, pepper, cumin, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon; set spice mix aside. In a large bowl, whisk together half the spice mix, orange, grapefruit, and lime juices, and minced garlic; add chicken pieces, and toss to coat evenly in marinade. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
- Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Place whole cloves garlic and chiles on pan, and cook, turning as needed, until lightly charred all over, about 10 minutes for garlic, about 25 minutes for chiles. Transfer to a bowl, and set aside to cool. Remove chicken from marinade, reserving marinade, and working in batches, add to grill; cook, turning once, until lightly charred on both sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Heat oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, sprinkle with remaining spice mix, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Stir in charred chiles and garlic, and then return chicken to pan along with reserved marinade and stock; bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Uncover, and continue cooking until liquid is slightly reduced, about 15 minutes; serve with tortillas.