Marinades : Recado Rojo

Typically when I think of a marinade I think of a liquid that something (usually meat) is immersed in so as to give it flavour or, in the case of tougher cuts of meat, to tenderise it. You marinate the meat by soaking it in the marinade. The word marinade hearks back to the use of salted water as a brining/pickling liquid (1). Generally anything can be used as a flavouring liquid from wine and beer (and tequila) to herbs, spices, vinegars, fruit juices, soy sauce……anything really. If using tougher cuts of meat an acidic liquid (2) or an enzymatic liquid (such as pineapple juice)(3) is used to help tenderise the meat.

  1. “a pickle for fish or meat, generally of wine and vinegar with herbs and spices,” 1704, from French marinade “spiced vinegar or brine for pickling,” from mariner “to pickle in (sea) brine,” from Old French marin (adj.) “of the sea,” from Latin marinus “of the sea,” from mare “sea, the sea, seawater,”
  2. such as vinegar or citrus juices
  3. Pineapple juice can be used in that quintessential of Mexican street tacos, tacos al pastor. Other enzymatic marinades might include kiwi fruit, papaya or ginger. If using an enzymatic marinade take care not to marinate it for too long as it can make the meat mushy. This is because the juices of these fruits contain substances that have the same effect as the digestive enzymes in our own bodies. I have experienced this myself when marinating pork in pineapple juice for al pastor. I marinated the meat overnight. This was too long, a few hours would have sufficed. The (raw) pork was so mushy it could be scooped with a spoon. This was an embarrassing failure that never made it to the tables of FOMEX (See Post FOMEX The Friends of Mexico)

Marinades however do not need to be liquid. They can be a combination of dried spices which are rubbed into the meat (or added to a liquid) or a paste made from fresh and/or dried herbs, chiles and spices. In México (and most other Latin American cooking styles) marinades such as these might be called adobos (1) or recados (2).

  1. adobos can be a powder of dried herbs/spices/chiles or a wet puree or thick paste of ingredients. Adobo is also the name of a dish from the Philippines of marinated meat or seafood seasoned with garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, and spices.
  2. or in some places recaitos (Puerto Rico). A recaito is used in a sofrito (or is sometimes called a sofrito) which is an aromatic puree of onions, culantro leaves (recao – Eryngium foetidum), garlic, green peppers (what I might call a capsicum) and ajies dulces (depending on the tastes of the cook)
A commercially pre-packaged adobo blend from the Philippines.

Typical ingredients found in a recaito (sofrito)

Some of the less well known ingredients might include….

  • culantro (top, middle under the cilantro)(See Post Culantro : A Cilantro Mimic). This herb has a strong cilantro flavour and is a much sturdier leaf than cilantro. It can withstand (and sometimes demands) to be cooked. Cilantro is a delicate herb whose flavour profile won’t withstand a lot of cooking (except for the stalks and roots, these can be simmered to extract flavour)
  • ajis dulces (sweet peppers) (left of picture). These habanero/scotch bonnet looking chiles have a similar fruity flavour profile of a habanero without the bowel loosening heat of the habanero chile.

The recados of Yucatan are as varied as the moles of Oaxaca. Although a recado is not as complex as a mole (1) and its uses are somewhat different (2) there are almost as many recados as there are moles. It would not entirely be out of place to call Yucatan “The Land of the Seven (or more) Recados” (3).

  1. See Posts What is Mole? and Pre-made Mole. Blessing or Curse? Homage or Travesty?
  2. Recados are primarily a flavouring agent whilst mole is a dish in itself. You could eat mole with nothing more than a fresh tortilla if you so desired. A recado is added to a raw dish before cooking (usually meat – pork/turkey) as a seasoning or into a cooking dish to boost its flavour (as in the case of a sofrito – which can be added either at the start or even closer towards the end) while mole, although it starts as a raw paste, is cooked before the meat is added (generally speaking – there are no hard and fast rules)
  3. Much as Oaxaca is known as the “Land of Seven Moles”

Chef David Sterling in his voluminous tome on the food and cooking of the Yucatan Peninsula (2014) delves into the labyrinth of Yucatecan recados (1). There are two basic varieties of recados; powdered and paste. Both types are as varied as the cooks who make them although each one tends to be based on a primary ingredient.

  1.  XA’AK’ in Mayan

Powdered recados include….

  • Pepita molida – Primary ingredient : semillas de Calabaza (squash/pumpkin seeds)
  • Recado para escabeche – Primary ingredient : black pepper. Escabeche is a kind of pickled dish (usually involving fish) in this case the Yucatecans use pavo (turkey)
  • Recado para pastor – Primary ingredient : chile pasilla
  • Recado para puchero – Primary ingredient : coriander seed. A puchero is a classic Yucatecan guisado (stew)
  • Recado para todo – Primary ingredient : Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens). An “all purpose” seasoning blend.

Paste recados include….

  • Recado para bistec – Primary ingredient : Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens). Also contains a fairly large amount of cumin (not one of my favourite spices). This Recado mirrors in some ways the seasonings of the beef culture of the Northern States of México.
  • Recado blanco – Primary ingredient : (curiously enough) black pepper. Popular in the region of Valladolid
  • Recado negro – Primary ingredient : chile pais. “Yucatans most unusual and distinctive seasoning blend”. This Recado is black in colour from the careful burning of some of its ingredients before they are incorporated in the blend.
  • Recado para papadzules – Primary ingredient : pepita verde (squash/pumpkin seeds). A papadzule is a dish consisting of tortillas which have been dipped in a green pumpkin seed sauce (almost a mole in itself) and then wrapped around something, – often boiled egg but crab or chicken also work very well.
  • Recado rojo (the hero of this story) – Primary ingredient : achiote

The primary ingredient of recado rojo is that of the annatto seed (1)

  1. The seeds of Bixa orellana. See Post Achiote (Annatto) for more detailed information (and recipes) on this plant and its uses

Annatto seeds are rock hard. They can be difficult to grind and may require soaking before grinding. They will also stain everything brick red if you are not careful. Don’t wear white clothes when playing with them. If you are making your own achiote paste you will often be adding cumin seeds, whole black peppercorns, allspice berries (pimienta gorda) and cloves. Wet ingredients might include garlic cloves, orange juice (or vinegar) and that most quintessential of Yucatecan chiles, the habanero. The habanero is an very hot chile with a delicious fruity aroma. At one stage this was considered the hottest chile in the World (1). Take care when using this chile. Use gloves or failing that wash your hands at least 3 times before going to the toilet. You do not want this on your genitals (or in your eyes for that manner).

  1. before it went crazy with the bhut jolokias, Carolina reapers and Trinidad scorpions and so on……..
Habanero chiles

To avoid the rigmarole with creating your own achiote paste you can always fall back on a commercially prepared product. I have used all the varieties (as well as others) shown below.

Commercial achiote pastes

Pre-prepared achiote pastes can be used as is or, much like pre-prepared mole, they can be zhooshed up by the cook (1). I asked some of my FOMEX friends for their tips on how to adapt this product .

  1. See Post Pre-made Mole. Blessing or Curse? Homage or Travesty? for more info on this.


What I do is put a couple of tomatoes, onion, garlic and chile guajillo to cook with a bit of water when they are soft I blend orange juice, apple vinegar and the achiote I just put half of the block I add some pepper and bay leaves , I marinate the meat for a couple of hours , slow cook it for 6 hrs


I normally add the following powders: garlic, onion, bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon.

Recado rojo has Mayan roots and is popular in the cuisines of the peoples of the Yucatan peninsula and Belize. Its ingredients have evolved over the centuries (1) as has its uses (2).

  1. the Spanish introduced ingredients such as cumin, pepper and cloves
  2. its still used as a flavouring agent (as it was then) but it is commonly used to flavour pork (a Spanish import) whereas the locals would initially have used turkey (a Mexican native) or maybe even iguana?

The traditional way to make Yucatecan cochinita (1) pibil is to bury a pig in a steaming, smouldering, stone-lined pit (2) and cook it slowly for many hours.

  1. Baby (or suckling) pig.
  2. Commonly called a “pib”. Pibil comes from the Mayan word Pib, which means ‘cooked underground’. The process is much like that of Mexican barbacoa. (See Post The Agave, Barbacoa and Mixiotes)

Cochinita pibil (no underground pit required)*


  • 2kg pork shoulder**  (3-4lb)
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • ½  tablespoon cumin seeds
  • ½ tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice (pimiento gorda – fat pepper)
  • 4 dried guajillo chiles
  • ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • 4 tablespoons achiote-seed paste*SEE NOTES
  • 2 sour (Seville) oranges – juiced or substitute *SEE NOTES
  • 2 banana leaves, wiped clean
  • ½ white onion, thinly sliced

*alternatively this dish could be made either in a slow cooker, in the oven or on the stovetop (this process will require more tending and observation to prevent burning than will the first 2 options)

**you could also use the recado to marinate pork ribs and then grill them (preferably over an open flame)


  1. Score the fat of the pork, evenly salt the meat and set it aside while you make the marinade.
  2. Remove the seeds and veins from the chiles. Soak the chiles for 20 minutes in hot water until they soften and drain. Place the chiles in a blender.
  3. Roast the chilies, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, allspice, cloves and oregano separately over a medium heat in a dry pan until fragrant. Take care not to burn any of the ingredients. Allow the spices to cool and grind them into a powder
  4. Roast the garlic on a comal (or in a dry pan) until toasted and charred. Remove and discard the skins and add the garlic to the chiles in the blender
  5. Add the cinnamon, pepper, cumin, allspice, oregano, achiote, orange juice to the blender. Blend to a smooth paste or alternately use a molcajete to grind together all the spices and mix in the achiote paste and orange juice until you get a smooth paste. Strain out any grit.
  6. Roast the banana leaves over flame to soften them.
  7. Place some leaves at the bottom of a baking dish and arrange the pieces of meat on top.
  8. Pour the mixture over the meat, arrange the sliced white onions over the top of the meat and wrap tightly with the other banana leaf. Tie up with kitchen twine (if you need to) to make a nice parcel. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours.
  9. Place the banana leaf wrapped meat on a rack on a baking dish and put ½ a cup of water in the pan. Cook the meat for 3 to 4 hours at 150C (300F) until it is very tender
  10. Remove the meat from the pan and shred it finely. Spoon over some of the cooking juices and mix in well (there is a lot of flavour in the juices)

Serve with warmed tortillas and pickled red onions



Instead of prepackaged achiote you may wish to use annatto seeds. In case of using the seeds, do not forget to soak them in (1/4 cup) water and (2 Tablespoons) vinegar the night before. The seeds are VERY hard and need to be ground into a smooth paste/powder. A molcajete may work better than a blender in this case. You may need to strain the mix afterwards to remove any grit.

Sour Orange Substitutions

  • 1/4 cup of sweet orange juice mixed with 1/4 cup of white vinegar.
  • 2 tablespoons sweet orange juice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon white vinegar
  • Two parts regular orange juice with one part lemon juice and one part lime juice.
  • Two parts orange juice with one part grapefruit juice and a teaspoon of lime juice.
  • A 1:1:1 mixture of grapefruit, lime, and (sweet) orange juice
  • Equal parts (sweet) orange juice and apple cider vinegar

A typical accompaniment to pibil are pickled red onions. Make these ahead (they can be stored in the fridge for weeks)

Pickled Red Onions (3 ways)

#Version 1


  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 1 1⁄2 cups red wine vinegar


In a bowl, toss salt and onion together; let sit until onion releases some of its liquid, about 15 minutes. Transfer to jar along with peppercorns, oregano, cumin, and garlic, and pour over vinegar; seal with lid. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before using.

#Version 2


  • 2 small red onions (~300 grams total)
  • 3/4 cup seville orange juice or 1/4 cup each orange, lime, and grapefruit juice (see note)
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt or to taste


Thinly slice the onion. Combine with juice, vinegar, and salt in a container. Shake vigorously for about 10 seconds. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (overnight is best).

#Version 3


  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican Oregano
  • 2 Medium-sized red onions
  • About 4-5 cups of water (enough to cover the onions)
  • 1 bay leaf Optional
  • 2 Allspice kernels
  • 3 kernels black pepper
  • ½ cup of White vinegar* SEE NOTE
  • ½ cup of water
  • Salt to taste


  1. Toast oregano in a dry pan over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds. Set aside to cool.
  2. Peel onions and thinly slice them. Place them in a heat proof bowl.
  3. Cover sliced onions with boiling water. Soak for 1 minute and drain.
  4. Place the drained onions in a small pot and add the vinegar, water, oregano, bay leaf and the rest of the spices. Season with salt and mix well. Bring to the boil and immediately take off the heat. Allow to cool.
  5. They keep well refrigerated for about a week. And they taste best when prepared at least one day in advance.


This recipe tastes better using a combination of 2 parts lime juice, 1 part orange juice and 1 part grapefruit juice instead of the vinegar. Since the original recipe is make using Seville bitter orange juice and it is hard to find outside of Mexico, and even in some states in Mexico, many cooks use vinegar as a substitute

Cochinita Pibil in Popular Media

Robert Rodriguez is an American film director that is most popularly known (in my mind at least) for his pulp mexploitation movies. His movies are edgy in more ways than one and he tends toward some amusingly dark humour. The movies I know him best for are his Mariachi series and his Machete movies although the first one I remember watching – with my 6 year old daughter – was his movie Spykids (1).

  1. interestingly enough this was where he first introduced the character Machete (played by Danny Trejo). Machete went on to make his own series of movies.

Director Robert Rodriguez’s Puerco Pibil recipe from his “Ten Minute Cooking School” on the Once Upon a Time in Mexico DVD. Johnny Depps character in the movie (corrupt C.I.A agent “Agent Sands”) orders this, his favourite dish, in any cantina, taqueria or restaurant he’s in. He even kills a cook for making the dish too well

Sands: I need you to kill a man. [Sands’ food arrives, and he tastes it.] El, you really must try this. It’s a puerco pibil. It’s a slow roasted pork–nothing fancy, just happens to be my favourite–and I order it, with a tequila and lime, in every dive I go to in this country and honestly, that is the best it’s ever been, anywhere. In fact, it’s too good. It is so good that when I finish with it, I’ll pay my check, walk straight into the kitchen, and shoot the cook, because that’s what I do, I restore the balance to this country. And that is what I would like from you right now. Help me keep the balance by pulling the trigger.

El Mariachi: You want me to shoot the cook?

Sands: No, I’ll shoot the cook, my car’s parked out back anyway.

Robert Rodriguez’ Puerco Pibil


  • 5 T. annatto seeds
  • 2 t. cumin seeds
  • 1 T. whole black pepper
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • 1 t. cloves
  • 2 habanero peppers
  • 2 T. salt
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 1/2 c. white vinegar
  • 5 lemons, juiced
  • 2 shots fine tequila
  • 5 lbs. pork butt
  • banana leaves


  1. Grind the dried spices (annatto, cumin, black pepper, allspice, and cloves), thoroughly (I’d use a blade-style coffee grinder, though not one that I ever intend to use for coffee again)
  2. Mince the habenero peppers, after removing the seeds
  3. Combine the orange juice, vinegar, lemon juice, tequila, dried spices, minced habenero, salt, and garlic in a blender and liquify.
  4. Cut pork into 2 inch squares, place in a large ziplock bag, and fill with the marinade
  5. Let the pork marinate for at least twenty minutes (overnight is fine, too)
  6. Line a 9″ x 12″ pan with banana leaves, pour pork & marinade in, cover with more banana leaves, cover tightly with foil
  7. Cook at 325 degrees F. for four hours
  8. Serve over white or Spanish rice.


Sterling, D. (2014). Yucatan – Recipes From A Culinary Expedition. University of Texas Press, Austin. ISBN 978-0-292-73581-1


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