What distiguishes this dish from your average chicken dish is the pibil cooking technique.
Meats are marinated, wrapped in banana leaves and placed in pibs; roasting pits buried into the earth and layered with stones and pieces of wood. This wonderful method of cooking the meat in the earth, gives this dish it's classic rustic, earthy flavor while the banana leaves infuse the meats with a lovely freshness, keeping the meat moist, juicy and tender.
Now perched here in my urban kitchen, it's not likely I'm going to be heading to the backyard with a shovel to dig a pit, it's time to take what's traditional and work it to fit my itsy bitsy kitchen.
The challenge is this; cooking the meat in an earthen pit, allows for excess moisture to escape our from the banana leaves into the surrounding earth pit. So what one is left with is all the tenderness without the meat resting in a soupy base.
To counter this, I've got a couple of tricks up my sleeve. First, I'm going to sear the chicken over high heat to get it all brown and crispy getting those lovely browning and flavor molecules to do their thing. Helloo, Maillard reactions!
After that, I'm reducing the amount of liquid traditionally used by half so not to end up in a soupy mess.
There are a couple of things that make pollo pibil pollo pibil and not pollo whatever and that's the nutty, pungent akin to sweet pepper flavor of the achiote/annatto paste which is quite literally a brick colored brick! I merrily buy my brick from amazon.com - God bless!
The other is the overnight marination in a sea of citrus. Bitter oranges traditionally but a wowzah combination of lime, orange, grapefruit juices and vinegar does the trick very nicely. All that citrus is 'cooking' the meat, breaking down those proteins as the chicken sits and of course infuses it with a ton of flavor.
Banana leaves can be purchased frozen in any Asian market and defrosted before use. Easy peasy.
So now that you know the why, the what and the who, it's off to the kitchen without further ado!