Pibipollo is a popular dish in the Mexican Southern states of Yucatan and Campeche, especially around the fast approaching Day of the Dead (November 2). It is made in a very similar way as a meat pie, but the dough is corn-based; its name comes from pollo – chicken and piib, the underground oven used in the Yucatan peninsula, where food is cooked buried in a bed of hot coals and rocks, usually wrapped in banana leaves. It is possible to reproduce this dish extricating oneself from the use of a piib or even banana leaves by means of a conventional oven and aluminum foil, as long as the preparation is sealed to keep heat and steam contained. About the ingredients, most recipes call for lard, which makes the dough light and fluffy, but I used vegetable oil, with the addition of baking powder to help achieve a similar texture. And finally, recado rojo, a seasoned annatto (achiote) blend mixed with sour orange juice (a fruit found in the Yucatan region), is used in all the layers of this pie, providing both a nice reddish colour, and its characteristic flavour; recado rojo may be purchased already prepared as a paste (usually as a brick) or mixed at home starting with envelopes of annatto powder:
The bricks at the bottom (“El Yucateco” ™) and the Lol-Tun™, top right, are already seasoned annatto, called Recado rojo. The envelopes of powdered annatto (Mama Sita’s™) still need to be mixed with herbs and spices. All three were purchased in Canada.
Red Seasoning – Recado rojo
4 tbsp annatto powder (2 envelopes)
1 tsp dry oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch ground cloves
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground all-spice (pimienta gorda)
¼ tsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1 tsp salt
¼ cup sour orange juice (or mix 2 tbsp orange juice, 2 tbsp white vinegar, and a squirt of lime juice)
Place all the ingredients except the juice, in a mixing bowl:
Mix thoroughly, then gradually add juice, mixing:
Continue mixing, until a uniform soft paste is formed. Use as a meat rub or add to stews and sauces. Also good for tamales, especially for Southern-Mexico recipes.
Yucatan Style Chicken in Corn Dough – Pibipollo
2 lb (908 g) chicken; cut into pieces, bone-in, skin-on
1 onion; peeled
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Water, as needed
2 ¼ cups corn flour (masa harina, maize flour, not starch)
8 tbsp lard (or 8 tbsp vegetable oil + 1 tbsp baking powder)
1 batch recado rojo (recipe above or 1 brick)
½ cup sour orange juice (or mix ¼ cup orange juice, ¼ cup white vinegar and a squirt lime juice)
4 tomatoes; washed, stem ends removed and cut into large chunks
To cook and prep chicken meat and broth: Place chicken pieces, half the onion and ½ tsp salt in a large pot; pour enough water to completely cover chicken. Bring to boil, skim white foam with a spoon, then lower to medium heat and cook, covered, for 45 minutes to one hour, until chicken is tender and well cooked. Let cool in the pot, away from heat. Remove onion, skin and bones and discard. Shred chicken meat and reserve in a bowl. Strain broth and reserve.
To prepare filling: Mix recado rojo with the sour juice (photo below, left.) Pour into a blender jar, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the bowl (reserve for later). Add ½ cup of the strained broth to the blender jar, along with tomatoes, the other half of the onion, and half a teaspoon of salt (photo below, centre). Process until smooth (photo below, right):
In a large pan, warm up 2 tbsp of lard (or vegetable oil) over medium heat. Pour sauce from the blender into the pan; it should sizzle and form ripples (photo below, left). Stir and cook for about one minute. Pour 1/2 cup of the strained broth in the blender jar (to rinse any sauce left behind) and pour into the pan (photo below, right):
Bring to a boil, then add shredded chicken:
Stir to coat chicken with the sauce, bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
To prepare dough: Meanwhile, in a clean bowl, mix 2 cups of the corn flour (masa harina) with the baking powder (if using) and ½ teaspoon salt (photo below, left); add 6 tablespoons of lard (or vegetable oil). Measure 1 ½ cups of strained broth in a measuring cup and mix with the 2 tablespoons of recado rojo reserved from the filling, then pour into the bowl with the corn flour mix (photo below, right):
Mix vigorously with a spatula until a reddish, sticky dough is formed:
Cover dough and reserve.
To finish preparing filling: In the now empty measuring cup, mix the remaining ¼ cup of corn flour from the total amount, with some of the simmering sauce from the chicken, mixing to dissolve the flour and form a runny slurry. Pour this slurry back to the pot with the chicken, stirring and cooking for another minute, until the sauce starts to thicken. Remove pot from the heat and allow to cool down for a few minutes.
To assemble pibipollo: Take an oven-proof dish of approximate dimensions of 9×12 inches by about one inch in depth:
Mine is a French White Corningware™ dish, but Pyrex™ or a metal tray would work well, too. The traditional way would involve layering several boiled banana leaves, placed in different directions, to form a wrap for the food. To do the same with Aluminum foil, cut three sheets of strong foil; the first should fit the bottom and sides of the dish, with a little extra length (mine was 12×14 inches):
The other two sheets should be long, to fold over the food. Mine were 9×12 inches each. I placed one so it would cover the bottom and extend over one of the long sides of the dish, then placed the other one overlapping the bottom and extending over the opposite side of the dish:
Scoop half the reserved dough onto the prepared dish, spreading with a wet spatula and/or clean hands splashed with water to avoid sticking to the dough:
Cover the bottom of the dish, as well as up to the sides, like a pie crust:
Scoop filling into the crust, then cover with the rest of the dough. This may be done by rolling dough between two plastic sheets, then dropping on top of the filling (like making a double crust pie), or as I did, taking small pieces of dough, flattened between clean moist hands, and arranging next to each other on top of the filling (more like making a cobbler):
Patch any holes with a little more dough:
Smooth top with wet fingers, sealing dough around the edges:
Preheat oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Fold one long end of foil over the dish, to partially cover the food, then fold the short ends of the bottom foil:
Fold the other long end, pinching edges of foil together to seal as a package:
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes to one hour. After baking, the top should look set and slightly crispy but not dry or burnt:
Let rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing:
Nice condiments for this dish are marinated red onions, or as pictured at the top of this post, Xnipec sauce (both recipes available in my previous post.) In the photo below, pibipollo with Xnipec sauce, arranged on a colourful mat for the Day of the Dead:
My recipe is closer to the Yucatan style; for Campeche style pibipollo, raw slices of tomato, onion and habanero peppers are arranged on top of the filling, sometimes pouring some broth on top before closing the pie with the top layer of dough.
As mentioned in my previous post, the cherry-like pepper topping in the Xnipec sauce is a Filius Blue from my garden; I was finally brave enough to take a bite, along with lots of my pibipollo, and Xnipec sauce:
The pibipollo was slightly crisp on top, and very moist inside, with the recado rojo flavour well balanced throughout all the layers of the dish. The pepper was fiery, but really flavourful, not just heat, complementing the sour and rich flavours of the pibipollo and Xnipec sauce. And I was happy to be eating this in the comfort of my home, so I was not completely embarrassed by my runny nose, honouring the reputation of the sauce (“xnipec” means “dog’s snout” in Mayan, referring to the wet nose characteristic of our canine friends.)