This dish, loosely based on a recipe by Rick Bayless, is flavored with an achiote seasoning paste typical of the Yucatan. Quick and easy to assemble, it also can be made with shrimp or sea scallops. Serve it simply over plain white Mexican-style rice or achiote rice (recipe below) as I have done.
½ pound bay scallops
1 Tbsp. achiote seasoning paste (recipe follows)
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 medium red or green bell pepper (I used half of each)
2 whole canned Roma tomatoes
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. parsley leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Dissolve the achiote paste in the lime juice and marinate the scallops while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Char the skin of the pepper under the broiler or with a plumber’s torch, the latter being much faster. Wrap in kitchen towel for 5 to 10 minutes then rub off the charred skin. Cut into ½-inch squares. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and set aside with the peppers.
Film with oil a non-stick frying pan set over medium-high heat. When quite hot lift the scallops from the marinade with a slotted spoon and put them in the hot pan, reserving the marinade. Toss for about 2 minutes or until done. Remove the scallops from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Empty any liquid remaining in the pan into the reserved marinade.
Reduce the heat to medium and, if needed, add a bit more oil to the pan. Sauté the onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the peppers, tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley, the reserved marinade, and water as needed. Simmer until the peppers are nearly done, another 5 minutes then add the scallops and toss to combine. Cook for a couple more minutes to thicken the sauce a bit. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve over rice.
Achiote Seasoning Paste
Achiote, or annatto, is sometimes called the saffron of Mexico for its rich yellow color when dissolved in oil. This paste, typical of the Yucatan, contains no oil so it is red rather than yellow. This is my simplified version of a recipe I got from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.
1 Tbsp. achiote seeds
1 tsp. allspice berries
½ tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Pinch of salt
Water as needed
Grind the achiote as finely as possible in a spice grinder of coffee grinder that you use for spices, not coffee. Place in a small bowl or, if you have one a micro chopper like the ones that work with a hand blender. Grind the rest of the spices together and add to the achiote along with the vinegar and salt. If working in a bowl, mash in the garlic with a fork to form a paste, adding a bit of water as needed. If using a micro chopper, just pulse until the garlic is chopped, add a bit of water and process to a paste. Store in the refrigerator.
¾ cup medium grain rice
1 Tbsp. achiote seasoning paste
1½ cup water or stock
Salt to taste
Heat a bit of oil in pan with a tightly-fitting lid. Fry the rice, stirring constantly until chalky, about 2 minutes. Stir the achiote paste into the water or stock and add to the rice. Season with salt, bring to a boil, cover, and cook over very low heat until done, about 20 minutes.