The wafting aroma of pollo asado elicits “memories of walking from my grandparents’ house to the neighborhood fritanga stand,” says Giovanna Favilli, chef-owner of Casita Verde in Lakeland, Florida. “Fritangas are an integral part of Nicaragua’s food identity. At these food stalls, chicken, pork, and beef are marinated in naranja agria (sour orange) and barbecued to charred perfection.”
Also called Seville or bitter oranges, the sour citrus gives pollo asado marinade its signature tang. You can find the fruit at some Mexican or other Latinx grocery stores, but equal parts fresh orange juice and lime juice can also stand in. The cut of chicken is less flexible. Don’t try subbing in skinless, boneless chicken thighs or breasts. Marinating a whole spatchcocked bone-in chicken delivers more flavor and ensures juicy chicken at the end.
Achiote paste (made from annatto seeds and aromatics) gives this chicken its bright red color. It’s readily available in most supermarkets (and online), but if you spot achiote powder instead, it can be used as a substitute. Mix the powder with ground cumin, Mexican oregano, garlic, and a little extra sour orange juice to achieve a similar level of flavor.
The real key to this pollo asado recipe is to lightly char the skin so it gets crispy, then continue cooking the bird on a cooler part of the grill. Use a meat thermometer to test the internal temperature—for cooked chicken, you’re looking for the thigh to register 165°. Use the cooking time to finish up side dishes like gallo pinto (rice and beans) and fried green or sweet plantains (a.k.a. tostones or maduritos).