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Marinated Chicken Wrapped in Banana Leaves (Pilte de Barbacoa de Pollo)

by Susana Trilling

According to Susana Trilling, cooking teacher and cookbook author, this is a wonderful party dish that is served when all the family is together, such as on Christmas Day or a baptism. The chicken packets can be assembled a day ahead and steamed on the day of serving.

Makes 8 servings

8 fresh banana leaves (12 inches by 8 inches), washed in warm water, or substitute frozen banana leaves, completely defrosted

For the chicken:
5 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
5 chiles guajillos, stemmed, seeded and deveined
3 chiles anchos, stemmed, seeded and deveined
½ medium white onion, thickly sliced
15 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper
1 ½ chickens (about 4 pounds), cut into 8 pieces

For the topping:
2 medium white onions, thinly sliced
1 ¼ pounds tomatoes (2 ½ medium-large round or 10–13 plum), sliced
Salt to taste

To assemble the dish:
8 pieces of aluminum foil, 12 inches by 8 inches
8 avocado leaves, fresh or dried (hoya de aguacate)


Cover the banana leaves with water. Boil, for 20 to 30 minutes, covered, or until soft. Older, thicker leaves will take longer. Drain and cool.

For the chicken:
Bring 1 cup of water to boil.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a medium frying pan.  Fry the chiles until they are browned on both sides, then remove from the oil and place in a small bowl.  Cover with the boiling water and allow to soak 10 minutes.

In the same oil, fry the onion slices until soft. When they become transparent, add the garlic and fry until clear. Remove from the oil and place onion and garlic in a blender.  Add the soaked chiles and just enough of their soaking water to be able to blend mixture well.  Reserve the pan and the oil.

In a heavy medium saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until smoking hot  Pour the chile mixture through a sieve or food mill, add the bay leaves, and fry the sauce 10 minutes.  Add the stock and season with salt.  Allow to cool.

Please the cut-up chicken in a medium bowl and season with salt and black pepper.  Pour on the sauce and marinate the chicken for ½ hour.

For the topping:
In the same oil as you fried the chiles, fry the sliced onions over medium to high heat until they are clear. Then add the tomato slices and fry until they are brown and dry, about 10 minutes. Add salt. Set aside.

To assemble the dish:
On a clean working space, lay a piece of tin foil horizontally on the table. Cover with a banana leaf in the same direction. In the center, place 1 avocado leaf and a chicken piece on top. Place 2 tablespoons of the marinade over the chicken. Add 2 tablespoons of the onion and tomato mixture.  Fold the top third of the leaf down over the chicken piece fold the remaining third to cover it. Fold the right side in by a third to cover the chicken and the left side over to create a package. Fold the aluminum foil in the same fashion so you have a rectangular package. Repeat with the remaining pieces.

Meanwhile, put salted water in the bottom or a steamer pan or wok with a steamer tray inside. Bring the water to a boil and place the chicken packages on the steamer rack.  Cover well and steam over high heat for 1 hour. Serve immediately in the packages.

Excerpted from Seasons of My Heart, A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca, Mexico by Susana Trilling. (Ballantine Books, November 1999, ISBN 0-345-42596-0)

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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