There is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall chicken restaurant in Tulum Pueblo called El Pollo Bronco that makes hands down the best chicken I have ever tasted. The chicken is smokey, juicy and packed with flavor and served with salsa, cole slaw and corn tortillas. It was the first place we stopped on our last trip to Tulum, even before checking in at the hotel. It’s amazing and it has become my mission to recreate it.
I searched the web looking for Mexican chicken recipes and found Reed Hearon’s grilled glass-skinned chicken. I had a good feeling about it. Marinating chicken overnight in a special mexican seasoning paste that takes 3 hours to make, baking and then grilling it. Something this complicated and time consuming had to be really good, right? Thus began my journey that would take me to 4 stores and 2 different neighborhoods searching for achiote (annatto seeds) for the traditional achiote recado. I finally found them at a mexican speciality grocery in Sunset Park. The search took long enough for the chicken I purchased at the first store to go bad, which was the first tragedy of day. I can’t blame it all on the achiote though, we did stop to have a drink along the way. I’m sorry but anyone who braves Fairway on a Saturday deserves an immediate drink afterwards.
Once I had all my specialty spices and a new chicken, I began to make the paste which called for me to boil, then simmer the achiote seeds in 1/2 cup of water. Unfortunately, my stovetop has two temperatures, high and off. Simmering is seemingly impossible, so my first batch of achiote burned. I started again using more water this time. After boiling, simmering (aka boiling some more), and then steeping the achiote for 2 hours, I combined them with the rest of the ingredients in the food processor to make the paste. The result smelled awful. Jolian had to leave the room. Not exactly the reaction you want after spending 3 hours in the kitchen. I marinated the chicken anyway. I wasn’t ready to give up.
The next day I woke up feeling hopeful. Maybe that smelly goop was going to be delicious. I continued with the recipe and baked the chicken in the oven for a little over an hour. The recipe called for two 2 1/2 lb. chickens and I had one 4 lb. chicken, so I increased the baking time slightly. After cooling for an hour, it was Jolian’s turn to take a whack at it. His mission was to grill the chicken for 30 minutes avoiding the hottest parts of the coals. This, similar to our stove’s simmer, is pretty much impossible. The chicken filled the whole grill with no real way to avoid the hottest parts. Looking back now, I realize I should have cut up the chicken and grilled it in batches, but I prefer to blame Jolian’s grilling abilities. The recipe describes that the “chicken will be slightly burned and almost transparent in some places and red in color and fragile in others.” Ours was more of the burnt description, less of the other, definitely not transparent at all. Such a disappointment. The charred habanero salsa was good, but loses its appeal when there is nothing to put it on.
Though I made some crucial mistakes and can’t blame my failure completely on the recipe, I am not willing to devote another weekend to trying again. My search for el pollo bronco chicken continues. Does anyone have any idea what could make el pollo bronco so good?