A fun barbecue idea of chicken wrapped in banana leaves from Lourdes Castro's Latin Grilling. "An achiote marinade is used to flavour and season the chicken, and banana leaves are wrapped around the meat to infuse it with smokiness. Traditionally, the chicken would be placed in an earth oven (pibe), but this version only requires you to place it in a covered grill. I've served it intact in the banana leaf (which usually draws applause), but I've also chopped the chicken up with the tomato and onion for a delicious taco filling. However you choose to serve it, I guarantee you will love how straightforward this beautiful and mouthwatering dish is to make."
1/4 cup annatto seeds
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 cup dried oregano
1 tbsp black pepper
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup orange juice
8 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 3 lb. total)
3 large banana leaves*
4 plum tomatoes, cored and sliced
1 red onion, sliced
* While these long, wide, sturdy leaves come from the banana tree, they do not produce a banana scent or flavour. Instead, they infuse foods with an unexpected yet wonderful earthy and smoky flavour. They are most commonly found frozen. To use, just thaw them at room temperature and unfold. Whether you are using fresh or frozen leaves, start by cutting off the spine that runs through each leaf, because it will prevent you from folding the leaf properly. Kitchen scissors work best for trimming the leaves. The frozen packs come with a good number of banana leaves. After you defrost the package and use the leaves that you need, repack the leaves airtight in plastic wrap and return to the freezer. You can defrost and refreeze these hearty leaves as often as you need to without affecting their flavour or texture. While you will sacrifice a bit of flavour, you can successfully substitute aluminum foil for the banana leaves.
Step 1: Place the annatto seeds in a blender and turn on high until the seeds are ground. It's all right if the powder is not evenly ground — just try to get it as fine as you can.
Step 2: Place the remaining marinade ingredients in the blender and puree until all the ingredients are well blended into a paste. Remove the marinade from the blender jar and set aside.
Step 3: Place the chicken breasts in a large resealable plastic bag (you may need to use two) and pour in the marinade. Make sure to coat the chicken well with the marinade. Press out as much air as possible from the bag, seal it, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, or overnight.
Banana Leaf Packets**
Step 1: Use kitchen scissors to cut eight pieces of banana leaves, each approximately 12" by 12". Reserve any extra scraps of leaves to make ties.
Step 2: Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator. Lay a banana leaf square in front of you, making sure the shiny side is facing up. Place the chicken breast, with marinade still clinging to it, in the centre of the leaf and top it with 3 or 4 slices of tomato and several onion slices.
Step 3: Fold one side of the leaf over the chicken. Overlap the opposite side over the leaf. Fold the two ends in toward the centre and place the package on a baking sheet seam side down. Tear a long strip from an extra piece of banana leaf and tie it around the chicken-stuffed package to secure it. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
Step 1: Heat your grill to high (550°F) and close the lid. Wait at least 15 minutes before lowering the heat to medium-high (450°F) and continuing.
Step 2: Place the banana leaf packets on the grill, close the lid, and cook for 25 minutes. The leaves will turn dark brown and have a burnt appearance. They will also begin to give off a smoky scent.
Step 3: To serve, pile the banana leaf packets on a serving platter and allow your guests to serve themselves and unwrap their packages.
** These packets create an environment where the chicken is steamed. After 25 minutes, the chicken will be cooked through and infused with the smoky scent of the banana leaves and the deep red colour of the annatto seeds, but it will not have charred flesh or grill marks.
See more recipes from Lourdes Castro.
Reprinted with permission from Lourdes Castro's Latin Grilling (2011 Ten Speed Press).