Yucatan Chicken

Two Yucatan Chicken legs in a purple dutch oven next to bowls of fixings.

Mexican-inspired Yucatan Chicken is one of my favourite easy dinners at the moment, inspired by a fantastic lunch we had in Valladolid, a town in Yucatan province in Mexico last summer. Served with a simple plate of rice, some quick pickled red onions and sliced avocado even though you need to simmer it for a while it’s a great hands-off, stove-top braise for weeknights, but also is good enough to serve as the centrepiece for a Mexican-inspired feast with warm corn tortillas, black beans and homemade Pico de Gallo!

Traditional Yucatan meal on a paper plate in Mexico.
Metal trays of traditional Yucatan food including rice, black beans and chicken in a courtyard in Mexico.

Along with the fantastic Lamb Birria served at our resort (which I perfected last November), the most memorable dish from the trip was the brothy yellow chicken legs we enjoyed as part of a cafeteria-style lunch after our visit to Chichén-Itzá. Our guide had explained that the unique tangy flavour and vibrant colouring of the region’s signature chicken preparation was thanks to local achiote paste made from annatto seeds (also used as a red / orange dye), and I determined that it was both this, and a quality of bird that takes effort to seek out here in the UK came together to make such a brilliant dish. Needless to say use the best pieces of chicken you can afford (pictured I’ve used Field & Flower chicken legs, who I’m a brand ambassador for but whose chicken I was already a devoted fan of before they asked me to collaborate!)

Close up of yellow braised chicken legs in achiote paste.

Obviously, this is my take on the traditional dish cobbled together from memories, notes I took at the time and the scant recipes I could find online, so it’s probably not 100% traditional. But I think it does evoke the flavours of our trip, and shows a side of Mexican cooking which I think is somewhat overlooked here in the UK (if you want to learn more, Phadion gifted me a copy of The Latin American Cookbookad a few years ago which is a fascinating and comprehensive read even if we could only dream of getting our hands on half the ingredients here!)

A jar of achiote paste and a tin of ancho chilli powder.

What is Achiote Paste?

Achiote paste is a thick, dark orange / red paste made from annatto seeds, harvested from a tree native to the Tropical climates found in South America. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s often used as a red and orange dye, but it also imparts a unique, slightly bitter, slightly sour and slightly earthy flavour. It’s a little unpleasant in it’s concentrated form, but thinned out with some citrus juice (in this case orange and lime) it makes a great base for braises like this one, or marinade for grilled chicken.

As well as in Yucatan-style chicken, achiote paste is also a traditional ingredient in the region’s Pibil.

Where can I buy Achiote Paste?

I use Cool Chile Co. Achiote Paste which I order from Sous Chef (they also sell the seeds!) Whilst you’re there, you can also order the ancho chili powder also used in this recipe, though you can always substitute a 50/50 mix of regular chilli powder and sweet smoked paprika instead.

If you’ve got more Mexican cooking planned you can also source what looks like a Mexican brand from Mexgrocer, which is also stocked on Amazonad if you don’t want to worry about trying to make up postage.

A plate made up with rice, avocado, pink pickled onions and Yucatan chicken.
Casserole of Yucatan chicken next to a plate of sliced avocado and a bowl of pink pickled onions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there anything else I can substitute for the achiote paste in this Yucatan Chicken recipe?

I’m afraid what makes this chicken recipe truly unique, evoking the flavours of Yucatan is the achiote, but it’s easy to find online (you’re reading this recipe so you’re already on the internet!) from the sources I’ve listed above.

Can I use other cuts of chicken other than chicken legs?

Of course, just make sure the skin and bone are still attached. As you can see from the pictures in Mexico we had just chicken drumsticks (allow for two per person), and chicken thighs would also work well (again, allow two per person!) I’ve used chicken pieces to make this dish manageable for a couple, but if you’re feeding four or more people and therefore scaling the recipe up a whole chicken broken down into pieces would work well.

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A plate made up with rice, avocado, pink pickled onions and Yucatan chicken.

Yucatan Chicken

  • Author: Rachel Phipps
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Braising
  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Diet: Gluten Free


This simple, unique recipe for Yucatan Chicken inspired by our trip to Mexico last summer is delicious as a weeknight dinner with rice, sliced avocado and pink pickled onions, or as part of a larger spread with black beans and homemade Pico de Gallo!



For the Yucatan Chicken

  • 1 tbsp light oil
  • 2 large chicken legs
  • sea salt
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1/2 tsp ancho chilli powder (see notes)
  • 1/2 tsp oregano (use Mexican oregano if you have it)
  • 4 tsp achiote paste
  • juice of 1/2 large orange
  • juice 1 large lime
  • 50ml chicken stock or water

For the Pink Pickled Onions

  • 1 small red onion
  • apple cider vinegar (see note)


  1. First, make the pickled onions. These will still taste great if you make them just as you start cooking, but for a more vibrant pink start a few hours ahead. Peel and thinly slice the red onion into half moons, and place in a small bowl. Cover them up to 3/4 with apple cider vinegar, and top up the rest with water. Leave to pickle whilst you get on with the rest of the recipe.
  2. Heat the oil in the bottom of a casserole or a large, heavy bottomed, lidded saucepan over a medium high heat. Once it is shimmering, season the chicken well with salt and brown the pieces on each side until the skin is crisp. Remove from the pan and set the chicken aside, reducing the heat to low.
  3. Meanwhile, peel the onion and slice into very thin half moons. Mince the garlic cloves, and slice the tomato.
  4. Add the onion to the remaining cooking fat in the pan with another pinch of salt, and cook for 6-8 minutes or so until soft and starting to colour. Add a splash more oil if you think the onions need it to stop them sticking or browning too quickly.
  5. Stir in the garlic, and cook for a further minute until aromatic, then stir in the tomatoes, followed by the ancho chilli powder and the oregano. Cook for another minute to toast the chilli powder a little, then stir in the achiote paste until it has melted into the mixture.
  6. Stir in the citrus juice and the stock, making sure to use your wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan into the sauce.
  7. Return the chicken, skin side down, and raise the heat, bringing the mixture to the boil. Clap on the lid, and reduce the heat to medium low. Allow to simmer for 45 minutes, turning the chicken legs over about halfway through the cooking time to make sure they absorb the cooking liquid evenly.
  8. Just before serving, drain the pink pickled onions and pat them dry on a piece of kitchen paper, and check if you want to add more salt to the Yucatan chicken. Serve with rice and sliced avocado.


  • If you can’t find ancho chilli powder, use 1/4 tsp of regular chilli powder and 1/4 tsp of sweet smoked paprika.
  • The pink pickled onions in these photos are slightly orange because I used Willy’s excellent ACV (which they gifted me) which is unfiltered and therefore slightly cloudy. Use clear ACV (I also like Aspall’s one) for perfectly pink onions.