These two delectable salmon recipes will bring the bright flavors of Mexico into your home, not to mention those remarkable, storied Mexican Pickled Red Onions that will become part of your repertoire.
The first recipe is Achiote Paste. This lavish mother spice paste is from the Yucatan part of Mexico. Once made, it can stay in your refrigerator waiting to be slathered on fish, chicken or meat. All the paste’s ingredients are at arms-length at the grocery store. You will want to make it again and again.
Vanilla beans are native to Mexico. The Mexican Pickled Salmon has a broth permeated by the bean’s enchanting “caviar.” And then, there is pineapple, too, and its flowery fragrance. The salmon inhales all of these and more: a pickled salmon for the ages.
Speaking of pickling, Mexican Pickled Red Onions are going to be your new go-to condiment. This easy recipe can be made quickly and at the last minute. Bright ruby red and gorgeous, they dress up whatever paired with. Everyone will ask for more!
This wet spice paste is thoroughly Mexican. This recipe is from the Yucatan- the added spices and herbs are signature.
This is a wet paste that colors whatever food it touches.
That’s due to the annatto seeds- hard seeds that are now found pre-ground in many supermarkets, thanks to an uptick in our Mexican populace.
Happily, this delicious and evocative paste is easily yours, just for the blending. The pre-ground spices will produce a smooth paste.
Certain ground spices benefit from a gentle heat- they will become more fragrant.
Grind your own spices, if willing. But the effect may be a bit more rustic on the tongue.
For example, annatto is a hard seed and won’t break down completely, even after using an electric grinder. I buy annatto pre-ground.
I prefer to freshly grind all the other spices.
Frankly, it’s very humbling to think that many Mexican spices, or Mexican hard corn, were broken down by constant pounding on a rock slab, called a metate.
Once the paste is ready, how will you use it?
There are plenty of opportunities: marinate on fish fillets, skinless chicken parts, red meat, turkey cutlets and/or thighs.
Once marinated, the food is often wrapped and sealed. It’s the sealing that will set the stage for the exchange: the fish or the meat not only gets enhanced from being anointed, the sealed enclosure ensures the delivery. It’s a taste with a pulse.
The packages can then be steamed, grilled or baked.
The annatto stains the other recipe participants a distinguished and captivatingly earthy red. More beautiful than normal fare, the taste wonderfully agreeable.
Oh, buy some tortillas, too!
- 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds (1 tablespoon ground)
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds (1 well rounded teaspoon ground)
- 2 whole cloves (1 teaspoon ground)
- 1 teaspoon black pepper corns (1 teaspoon ground)
- ¼ cup annatto (pre-ground)
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
- ½ cup orange juice
- ½ half lemon, squeezed
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
Yield: about 1 cup (8 servings)
Special Equipment: electric spice grinder, standing mixer, food processor, or immersion blender
Using whole seeds: add the whole coriander, cumin, cloves and black peppercorns into the electric grinder. Pulse the seeds into powder. Place in the standing blender (or immersion blender container).
Using pre-ground: Measure out the ground coriander, cumin and cloves: place into a small frying pan. Gently warm the pan over low heat.
When the spices become fragrant, remove from heat and add the spices into a standing blender.
After the spices are prepared: add in the annatto, dried oregano, salt, garlic, orange juice and lemon juice.
Liquefy for about 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides. With motor running, add in the vegetable oil. Blend until smooth- about 10 seconds.
Scrape the paste into a container. Stores for 10 days.
A rubber spatula may turn color, a shade of red! Restore by placing in water with a little bleach.
In the Salmon with Achiote Paste (recipe follows), wrapping the salmon in banana leaves is one option
The crockpot can also be in play here: and Achiote paste comes in handy.
Prior to cooking, slather the paste on 2½ -3½ pounds red stewing meat. Let sit in the refrigerator for a few hours (or overnight) in a bowl.
In the crockpot, add in the 4 cloves of peeled garlic, 1 cup orange juice, ¼ cup lime juice, 2 teaspoon oregano, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 bay leaf, 3 tablespoons vinegar, kosher salt, water just to cover. Cook until tender.
Serve with tortillas.
Salmon with Achiote Paste
Well, you are not going to dig a hole in the dirt to cook fish wrapped in banana leaves.
Yet, this is just how it was and most likely still done in the Yucatan.
First, Achiote Paste (first recipe) is rubbed on the fish (or some meat).
The spice paste will go on coaxing and enchanting while slowly cooking over embers inside the now closed pit.
Tortillas are made, the fish emerges, the banana leaves are unwrapped and everyone enjoys.
Some would say that planted fish/meat is what the rest of the world knows now as BBQ. That’s for historians to decide.
This is what I know: the Achiote Paste is shockingly good when rubbed on salmon and then tucked inside a folded banana leaf (or parchment paper or foil).
Don’t get stuck on the banana leaves- they are readily available and cheap! Any Mexican or Asian grocer should have them in their freezer.
They also make for great theater on the plate.
It’s the package: the sealing and encasing that serves this union particularly well.
Mashgiachs always allow banana leaves (which are really very clean).
Once defrosted, take out and cut the leaves into pieces. Just remember, it’s only a leaf.
But then again, parchment or foil works just fine.
It’s the achiote paste we are interested in, the connector here.
Use whatever thicker fish fillet swims your way.
By all means, feel free to use chicken (boneless and skinless, of course).
You can cook this recipe by grilling, baking, even steaming. I prefer banana leaves for steaming, yet foil works perfectly well.
Don’t forget the Mexican Pickled Onions (recipe follows). These two recipes were made for each other.
Get some toothpicks! And follow me…
- 4 five oz. salmon fillets: skinned and boned (or any thick fish fillet / chicken)
- achiote paste
- banana leaves (or parchment, paper or foil)
- vegetable oil, for brushing
Special Equipment: scissors, tooth picks, parchment, butcher’s twine, foil or banana leaves
Yield: 4 servings
Make the Achiote Paste.
Wash the salmon fillets and pat dry.
Place into a bowl; add 2 heaping tablespoons of achiote paste. Rub the paste into the fish. Cover refrigerate for at least two hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the banana leaves (parchment or foil): Cut to a little more than twice the size of the fish fillet. Cover the leaves with a wet paper towel.
If using banana leaves: once you are ready to proceed, lay out in front of you one leaf at a time.
Place one salmon fillet in the middle. Pick up the two sides top and bottom, fold them over upon one another.
Stitch the leaf sealed with a toothpick.
Repeat for the remaining sides. Repeat for the rest of the salmon.
Brush all the leaf packages lightly with vegetable oil.
If using parchment: cut the parchment twice the size of the fish.
Fold in two sides, one upon the other. Fold in the remaining sides.
Tie with butcher’s twine and make a bow. Brush all the packages lightly with vegetable oil.
If using foil: cut the foil twice the size of the fish. Place the fish in the middle.
Bring one end of the foil towards the other edge. Crimp the foil around the edges, sealing in the fish. No need to oil the foil.
Finishing for Fish:
Grilling: about 7 minutes on each side, depends on heat and thickness.
Baking at 400° F: place on baking sheet. Cook packets for about 12-15 minutes (depending on thickness).
Steaming: place packets in a steamer. Cook over low heat for 12-15 minutes (depending on thickness).
Finishing for Chicken:
Grilling: about 12 minutes on each side, depending on heat and thickness.
Baking at 400 °F: place on a baking sheet. Cook the packets for 25 minutes (depending on thickness).
Steaming: place the packets in a steamer. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes (thighs 40 minutes). Cook time varies with thickness.
If using the banana leaves: open the packets to reveal the fish.
Tuck the leaves underneath for the diner once the package is upon the plate: be careful because the package still contains the cooking juices!
If parchment: cut the stings. Carefully open the parchment to reveal the fish.
After the package is on the plate, tuck the parchment underneath for the diner - be careful that the packages still contain the cooking juices!
If foil: place the bowls in front of you. Carefully open the foil, cutting to reveal the fish. Use a spatula to remove the fish. Place all the juices from the foil inside the bowl. Repeat.
I like to serve this recipe with cooked pumpkin and corn.
Don’t forget to serve the Mexican Pickled Onions (recipe follows)!!!
Mexican Pickled Fish with Fresh Pineapple and Vanilla Bean
Mexicans partially cook their pickled fish. The fresh fish first makes contact with fresh lime juice: the acidity penetrates and, like any acid, it starts the cooking process.
Next, the fish gets seasoned and lightly cooked over heat in the pan.
Still only halfway cooked, the fish then sits for its last anointment: a heated sweet and sour marinade.
This marinade has cooked fresh pineapple, white vinegar and an infusion of vanilla bean.
When poured over the pan-cooked fish, the marinade penetrates and seasons the fish with a vigorous flourish.
The pineapple works its charm by lending an aromatic flowery fragrance to the marinade.
The fish then rests, inhaling all these exquisite seasonings. The pineapple’s perfume and one sultry vanilla bean add a capricious delight.
No more cooking: the delicious fish is served at room temperature or placed in the refrigerator, then served cold.
This recipe just begs for a salad and crusty bread to soak up all the good marinade that you just made.
Vanilla beans are native to Mexico. The inner “caviar” speckles the cooking broth with a unique, almost holy allure. The taste here glows from this alliance.
Fresh ground spices just have more excitement on the tongue: they hold our attention.
Of course! You may use pre-ground spices.
I just have an abnormally strong attachment to grinding my own.
Once again, I call upon the Mexican Pickled Red Onions, sparking both a wise and productive conversation of flavors between two really delightful, pickled entities.
- 1 whole garlic bulb
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns (1½ teaspoon ground)
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds (1½ teaspoon ground)
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds (1½ teaspoon ground)
- 3 whole cloves (1½ teaspoon ground)
- 4 whole allspice berries (1½ teaspoon ground)
- 1½ cups water (plus 1 cup garlic water!)
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 vanilla bean: cut lengthwise and “scraped”
- 2 cups fresh pineapple, bite size wedges
- 2 fragrant bay leaves
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup white vinegar
- ½ tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 fat limes, juiced
- 4 one-inch thick salmon steaks (or another fish that is cut thick)
- vegetable oil for cooking
Yield: 4 servings
Cut the crown end off the garlic bulb until the garlic cloves are practically exposed. Place all in a small saucepan covered with water.
Cover and cook on slow simmer for 45-50 minutes. Drain and place the garlic in a bowl to cool.
Important: save one cup of garlic cooking water.
Grind the black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves and allspice together in the electric grinder. If using pre-ground spices, blend and set aside.
Juice the limes into a bowl. Place the fish into the bowl and rub in the juice.
Place the fillets on a plate and pour over the remaining lime juice. Seal and refrigerate one hour.
Slip the cooled garlic cloves out by pinching the bottom of each sleeve. Discard the empty garlic bulb casings.
Place the vanilla bean in front of you.
Carefully cut the vanilla pod lengthwise into two equal pieces. Use a small knife to scrape the bean’s inner caviar from the insides of both halves. Scrape the “caviar” into the reserved cup of garlic water. Set aside the vanilla pod.
Have all primed ingredients at the stove: the fish stays in the refrigerator for now.
When ready to make the hot marinade: place a saucepan on the stove. Add in all the primed ingredients: the boiled garlic cloves, 1 cup garlic water and vanilla “caviar”, the emptied vanilla pod, the combined spices, oregano, cut fresh pineapple, bay leaves, olive oil, vinegar, sugar and kosher salt.
Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Cover the pot and set aside.
Take the fish out of the refrigerator and place on a double layer of paper towel. Blot-dry one side, turn over and blot-dry the other side.
Season the fish with kosher salt and pepper.
In your skillet (non-Teflon), get 3 tablespoons of oil hot- it should sizzle if a drop of water is introduced.
Cook the fish fillet without “crowding.” You want to just seal and color the bottom and top of each fillet, frying about 3 minutes on each side.
Use more oil as needed. The fish will continue to “cook” more in the hot marinade.
Choose a serving dish that will comfortably accommodate the fish completely covered by the hot marinade.
Place the fish portions into the dish, pouring the hot marinade over them.
Cool to room temperature before serving. The fish can stay inside the room temperature marinade for at least 3 hours.
Or place in the refrigerator and serve cold.
In a soup bowl, serve a portion of the fish covered with marinade and inclusions.
The marinated fish is well served when accompanied by crusty bread.
The fish is also especially delicious served cold. Heighten the salt and pepper if serving from the refrigerator.
Any leftover fish is just splendid when tossed in a salad.
Tangles of Mexican Pickled Onion (recipe follows), with their piquancy and color, add to the works.
Note: the hot marinade can be made ahead and reheated. Work this recipe around your schedule.
Mexican Pickled Red Onions
The first thing that you should know about this recipe: Mexican Pickled Onions quickly come together. Even residing in the back of the fridge, they stay fresh, tangy and useful.
The second is: don’t dote on its Mexican heritage, although this recipe is robustly placed in that cuisine’s long heritage.
For uses: think herring, broiled fish, egg salad or just the hollow of a plain avocado.
These babies are also here to brighten up leftovers: pickled onions will your make cold meat or a piece of leftover poultry sing.
I slice the red onions using a mandoline: the onions will be uniform and you get more rings. But hand-made slices are just fine. The onions pickle no matter how they get sliced.
Another point is esthetic: these pickled onions are gorgeous. They illuminate a plate with their ruby red presence.
The onions are most assuredly frisky and vinegary delicious.
I make a jar full and try to always keep them on hand.
- 3 medium red onions (about 6oz. each), peeled
- ½ teaspoon whole black pepper corns
- ½ teaspoon whole cumin seed
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
optional: 1 jalapeño pepper for those that like spicy
Yield: about 3 cups
Special Equipment: mandoline, sauce pan, spice grinder, lidded jar
Peel the onions. Use a mandoline or hand slice ¼” thick.
Place the sliced onions in a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a good pinch of kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Drain. Set aside.
Use the spice grinder to coarsely grind the peppercorns, cumin seeds and mustard seed.
Place the grindings into the saucepan. Add the drained onions and all the other ingredients. Add water to cover.
Bring back to a boil and simmer for 1½ minutes.
Place the onions and preserving liquid in a bowl. Cool. Place in a clean jar with a cover.
The onions just get better over time. But I often use mine within a few hours of making!
Store in the refrigerator. The onions will keep for a month.
Use a clean fork each time you take some onions!
I recommend Mexican Pickled Onions for the Salmon with Achiote Paste, Mexican Pickled Fish, and Chicken Schnitzel with Pumpkin Seeds.