Beverly Smick took home a taste of Placencia, Belize, in recado rojo.
She bought the red blend of spices at a restaurant, and when she ran out she discovered she could get the same product in local Mexican or Latin markets, such as De Leon Foods in Spokane.
The mixture of annatto seeds, oregano, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, garlic, salt and allspice is a signature ingredient in dishes from Belize and the Yucatán Peninsula. Back in the States, Smick enjoyed experimenting with the stuff, creating vibrant recipes that captured the flavors of her sun-filled Caribbean vacation.
More than 12 years after her last trip to Placencia, Smick still serves her Mayan Sunday Chicken.
“It’s so bright, and the flavors are so fresh,” she said. “I like it with the rice and beans. It’s a nice contrast in colors and flavors.”
Not only does the dish remind her of her visit, it unites two of her favorite pastimes: cooking and traveling. She used to co-own and operate an Italian restaurant – That Italian Place – in Grand Coulee, Wash. Today, she has more than 200 cookbooks, including one she created, as well as binders full of favorite recipes, which she loves to tweak.
“I rarely make a recipe the way it says,” said Smick, who included her Mayan Sunday Chicken recipe in her cookbook, “A Wanderlust’s Kitchen,” which she made for friends and family in 2012 using Shutterfly.
In it, Smick offers anecdotes from her trips to Australia, Austria, Borneo, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Puerto Rico, Russia, Singapore, Spain and Thailand – along with her two visits to Belize, in 1996 and 2001.
“Every place is so unique and has a story to it,” she said. “There’s no place I wouldn’t go back another time.”
Smick, 61, and her husband Lee, 59, moved to Spokane Valley in 2009 when they retired. She had lived on Spokane’s South Hill for 11 years before the couple married in 1989 and she moved to Grand Coulee. They don’t have children.
In her submission for “In the Kitchen With … ” she wrote: “My husband and I have had the luxury of traveling around the world and with each new country visited, came an intense desire to recreate that ‘one special dish’ we experienced on the trip. As a result, on the return trip, my suitcase was filled with regional cookbooks and obscure items purchased at local markets.”
They try to take one big trip each year, discovering recado rojo during their second visit to Belize and its Caribbean coast. A year later, an early version of her recipe, simply called Mayan Chicken, ran in a reader-contributed section of the February 2002 issue of Sunset magazine.
“It makes a difference to start with good chicken,” said Smick, who prefers to buy poultry fresh, never frozen, from Egger’s Better Meats and Seafood in Spokane.
She removes the tenders from the chicken breasts, which she scores before marinating: “It just gives little pockets for the marinade to set into.”
When coating the chicken breasts with the mixture of achiote paste and lemon juice, she makes sure to wear gloves. The spicy blend is known to sting and stain bare hands.
Her other tips include using a microplane to grate the ginger and garlic, and allowing the chicken to marinate at least four hours but not more than overnight. Let it rest too long, she said, and, ‘The lemon juice and acid from the tomatoes really starts breaking the meat down.’ ”
Over dinner, Smick and her husband might talk about where they’ll go next. Next up on the itinerary: Amsterdam; Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Montenegro. Perhaps another cookbook will be forthcoming.
Mayan Sunday Chicken
From Beverly Smick, of Spokane Valley
4 chicken breast halves, bone in
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons achiote paste
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
3 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 14-ounce can diced tomato
Combine achiote paste and lemon juice and rub onto scored chicken breasts. Combine oregano, thyme, cumin, salt and pepper and sprinkle on chicken. Place in a large zip-top bag and add the rest of the ingredients. Allow this to marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put chicken and marinade in a glass or shallow stainless steel pan and cook uncovered until chicken is cooked throughout and juices have reduced slightly, about an hour. Serve with black beans and rice.
Note: Achiote paste, also referred to as annatto seed paste or recado rojo, is available in many Latin or Mexican markets. It can also be ordered online.
Yucatán Pork and Sweet Potato Stew
From Beverly Smick, of Spokane Valley
2 (1 1/2-inch cubes) of achiote paste
2 teaspoons garlic, crushed
3 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon thyme, crushed
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice, ground
1 cup orange juice, divided
2 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 16-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
Green onion, chopped (for garnish)
Blend together all ingredients through allspice and a 1/2 cup of the orange juice. Pour over pork cubes and marinate in a plastic bag for 3 to 6 hours.
Drain and reserve marinade from pork. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat, add pork, and sauté until browned. Add reserved marinade, 1/2 cup orange juice and chicken stock, simmer covered for 30 minutes.
Add sweet potatoes and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Add black beans and cilantro, and simmer 10 minutes. Serve over rice, garnish with chopped green onion.