Yucatecan Baked Fish. This visually appealing dish calls for achiote paste, a classic Yucatan spice paste made from the hard, orange seed of the annatto tree, blended with cumin, cloves and pepper. The market in Merida has a huge section devoted to spice pastes, in colors ranging from bright orange to green black.
The women who sell them were happy to explain how to make the pastes from scratch, and I bought some achiote seeds to do this at home. The achiote paste sold in the U.S. comes in small bricks and is found in the Hispanic food section of nearly all large supermarkets.
- 1 group or equally firm-fished, about 2 ½ lbs., cleaned, head, tail and spine removed, split down the middle to lie fiat
- 3 oz. (1 package) achiote paste
- 1/3 cup bitter (Seville) orange juice, OR mix sweet orange juice and white vinegar half-and-half
- 1 small green bell pepper, seeded and cut into rings
- 1 chile güero OR Hungarian wax chile, seeded and sliced into thin strips lengthwise
- 1 medium tomato, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 small purple onion, sliced into rings
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 4 oz. beer
- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 banana leaf, softened over a flame (if this is unavailable, use foil)
Wash the grouper, pat it dry with paper towels and salt and paper it. Mix the achiote paste and bitter orange juice, spread the mixture over the fish, and let it marinate for 3 hours. Place the fish on the softened banana leaf (or foil) and arrange the bell paper, chile, tomato and onion slices on the fish; sprinkle with oregano, olive oil and beer.
Warp the banana leaf or foil around the fish and place it in an oblong baking dish. Bake the fish in a 350 oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until it flakes easily when tested with a fork. In the Yucatan, this is served with purple onion slices marinated in olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme.