Friday, August 1, 2008

Spice of the week: Annatto seeds

This is a bit redundant to my regular customers since I made annatto seed my "spice of the week" about a month and a half ago but I've been playing with this one lately and thought it was worth talkin' about. Everybody has eaten annatto since it is a common natural food coloring. How do you think that cheddar cheese ends up being orange? The first thing everybody should do with these seeds is make some annatto oil. Put two ounces of annatto seeds in a pot with about a cup and a half of olive oil or the oil of your choice (real rendered pork lard makes this something really special). Slowly heat the oil until the seeds start to bubble. Don't get it too hot, you don't want to fry them or they will get bitter. About 200 degrees is hot enough. Now just turn off the heat and let it cool. Once cool, strain it and marvel at its vibrant orange colour. I keep mine in an old wine bottle in the fridge.



Now that you have the annatto oil, you can make a wonderful seasoning base called sofrito. There are many variations on this theme and I don't really follow any of them. Basically, it's a mixture of onion, garlic, peppers, herbs and spices sauteed in the oil. I started with a few things from my garden.



Then I added some stuff I picked up from the market. Leeks, onions, green peppers and garlic all coarsely chopped. Heat a decent amount of the oil in a large saute pan. The first thing in the oil was a generous tablespoon of cumin seed cooked until they started to pop. Then add your veggies and cook 'til soft but not brown. Then I added some Mexican oregano, a couple of chopped tomatoes and a goodly amount of salt.. The most important herb in many sofritos is culantro. This can be hard to find ( I do have an herb farmer who will be growing some for the market ) but it can be found at Latin and Asian stores. Cilantro is a good substitution but in this case I used a shadon beni ( another name for culantro ) chutney that I bought a a Latin store. The main ingredient is culantro but it also echos some of the other ingredients that I have already added. Once this cools a little, I like to pulse it in a food processor to get an even texture but this is optional. Now you have an awesome, flavorful seasoning base that can be used for many different things. The first thing that comes to mind is rice or rice and beans but I love it to flavor a simple saute of whatever summer veggies I have on hand.



The other thing I love to do is make achiote paste. It is nothing more than annatto seed ground together with garlic, vinegar, water and usually some other spices. I like allspice and fresh habaneros. This mixture is rubbed on pork or some other meat and pit roasted for a good long time. This will be a post of it's own some day soon.

6 comments:

OhioMom said...

Great post !! remind me to pick up Annatto seeds the next time I am down at the market :)

OhioMom said...

Just stopped by to let you know I made this oil ... Outstanding!!

Bren@Flanboyant Eats said...

and now ur on your way to Latin cooking!

lifeinrecipes said...

Really nice - I can almost smell all of that wonderful stuffin the pan. I love achiote paste on beer can chicken - warning - it stains the heck out of everything it touches!

Jerry Mann said...

Make sure you have your reading glasses on when looking for the tiny bubbles! Looking yummy... I am just wondering what I can do with the oil infused annatto seeds.

Jerry Mann said...

My (old) annato seeds started to bubble at about 100 f. and then again about 180 f.