Recados: The spice blends of the Yucatan

The brilliantly colored spice blends known as recados are the backbone of Yucatecan cuisine, as important to cooks there as the mother sauces are to the French. According to David Sterling, author of the authoritative Yucatãn: A Culinary Journey, it’s rare for any savory dish not to include one of these blends. They are used in tamales, as rubs for grilled meats, and stirred into long-simmering stews.

Only the most hardcore DIY cooks make their own recados. The ones sold in the markets here are typically made in small quantities by local artisans and have enough character and quality to satisfy even the most exacting chef.

Some recados are powders, others are pastes blended with vinegar. Typical ingredients include dried chiles, pepitas (squash seeds), achiote, dried herbs such as oregano, and spices including peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander. If you want to better understand the power of these blends, try this week’s Globetrotter meal. Chef Justine has created her own recado for the marinade in our Yucatan-style salmon with capers and tomatoes.