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Ecuadorian carne colorada {Achiote marinated meat}

Carne colorada is an achiote marinated meat (beef or pork) dish from the province of Imbabura in Ecuador.

Ecuadorian carne colorada or achiote marinated meat

En Español

Carne colorada translates as reddish meat, this traditional Ecuadorian dish gets its name from the orangish red color that the meat absorbs from achiote or annatto seed. Carne colorada is a typical dish from the provinces of Carchi and Imbabura in the northern highland region in Ecuador. This Ecuadorian meat dish is made by marinating beef (or pork) in marinade made with achiote or annatto, beer (or chicha), garlic, onion, cumin and oregano.

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Carne colorada or achiote marinated meat

Carne colorada is another one of the typical Ecuadorian dishes that is served as a composed plate with a variety of traditional side dishes. The exact side dishes will vary based on the restaurant or the home cook who prepares it, but some of the most popular options include fried ripe plantains, boiled mote or hominy corn, llapingachos or potato patties, avocado slices, rice, yuca or cassava, boiled potatoes with cheese sauce, empanadas, salad, curtido sauce, tostado corn nuts, among others.

Once you add all the sides to the dish it becomes a huge plate (sometimes served on 2 plates to accommodate all the side dishes). When preparing it a home, you can choose to omit some of the heavier side dishes and just include the ones that you prefer or that are made with ingredients that you have available. Personally I usually serve carne colorada with fried ripe plantains, avocado slices, a small salad and at least one of the starchy sides: rice, potatoes (boiled or made into llapingachos potato patties), hominy or yuca.

Carne colorada or meat with achiote

I posted this recipe a while ago and realized that it isn’t as authentic as it could be. It tastes fine, but is missing that intense achiote flavor. I also wanted to make sure that it had that characteristic bright red color that makes this Ecuadorian carne colorada so recognizable. If you are familiar with achiote or annatto then you know that its flavor is very subtle, it is used more coloring the food than for the flavor.

However, for this particular dish of carne colorada, in addition to the color of the dish, you should be able to distinctly taste the earthiness of the achiote in the meat. For this updated version, I increased the amount of ground achiote that goes into the marinade, and I also made an achiote oil to cook the meat.

Carne colorada recipe

The other thing that I wanted to improve was the meat, carne colorada can be made with either beef or pork. When I asked around what was the preferred option, I got different answers, so really it’s up to you. In Ecuador, many meat dishes, beef in particular, are usually made with cuts of meat that require a long period of cooking in order to get tender.

I’ve had this dish at restaurants where they cook it very quickly, and as a result the meat is very tough and overcooked, but not enough to get it tender. This is unfortunately something very common in Ecuador, people are used to eating meat well done, which works great for secos and stews where you have tougher cuts of meat that are cooked slowly until very tender, but can be so wrong for steaks and premium cuts of meat.

For the beef variation, I wanted to try making this achiote marinated meat dish with both a stew type meat, and cook it slower until tender, as well as with a nicer steak cut – which I would cook just medium (or medium rare – adjust based on preference). The pork variation is easier and can be made using tenderloin, which shouldn’t take too long to cook and should be tender.

Carne colorada or meat with achiote

Carne colorada {Achiote marinated meat}

Carne colorada is an annatto or achiote marinated meat dish from Ecuador, this traditional recipe is made with beef or pork cooked in a bright red achiote sauce.
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Course: Main dish, Meat
Cuisine: Andean, Ecuadorian, Latin, South American
Keyword: Achiote, Achiote marinated meat, Beef or pork, Carne colorada
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Marinating time: 2 hours
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6


  • 2 lbs of beef top sirloin or pork tenderloin cut into medium sized cubes or strips

For the achiote marinade:

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 red onion chopped in large chunks
  • 2-3 tbs ground achiote or annatto
  • 1 tbs ground cumin
  • ½ tbs oregano
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • ½ cup of beer can also use chicha or water

Achiote oil to cook the carne colorada:

  • 3 tablespoons of oil butter or lard
  • 1 tablespoon of achiote seeds
  • Salt to taste

Side dishes:


  • Blend the garlic cloves, red onion, achiote powder, ground cumin, oregano, 2 teaspoons of salt, lemon juice, and beer until you have a smooth puree.
  • Place the meat pieces in a bowl and combine with the marinade. Cover and let rest in the fridge for at least two hours (overnight is ideal).
  • Heat the oil (or butter/lard) in a large sauté pan over low to medium heat; add the achiote seeds and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the color from the seeds has transferred to the oil. Use a slotted spoon to remove the seeds from the oil and discard the seeds.
  • Heat the achiote oil over medium high heat, add the beef and cook until the sauce is reduced completely, about 20-30 minutes. Stir frequently to keep the meat/sauce from burning.
  • Taste and adjust salt if needed. Serve with your choice of side dishes.


You can also make a variation of this dish using chicken.

Side dish recipe options:
Recipe for fried ripe plantains
Recipe for mote or hominy corn 
Recipe for llapingachos potato patties
Recipe for onion curtido or Ecuadorian pickled red onions
Recipe for tostado corn nuts
Recipe for aji criollo hot sauce 

Step by step preparation photos for Ecuadorian carne colorada {Achiote marinated meat}

Ingredients for achiote marinade for carne colorada
Annatto or achiote marinade
Carne colorada marinating
Meat marinating in a mix of garlic, onion, achiote and cumin
Making achiote oil for carne colorada
Remove the seeds from the oil
Meat cooking in achiote sauce
How to make Ecuadorian carne colorada

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  1. Got a chuck roast. Came here looking for a way to use up the rest of a block of achiote. Best way to liquify is used vinegar rather than water. If the recipe does not call for vinegar you don’t need to use much. about 4 oz. Give it an hour and you have liquid anatto. Easier than trying to fish out seeds. Added this to the marinade and let the meat marinate over night. The vinegar is going to tenderize the meat and the acidity goes away, the result is not to sour. You will taste more lemon. Do this recipe in a cast iron dutch oven. I always line the pot with banana leaves, gives a layer of flavor and keeps the steam in. One hour at 350F, then two at 275F. Added 3 onions, bag of baby carrots, 4 sticks of celery cut up. Chuck is a tough cut and still cheap. Beef has double or more ( thank you Joe ). This is a great way to cook cheap tough cuts. This made an awesome beef stew. If you like flavor over heat this is it. For heat add one or two of your favorite hot pepper. for real heat one pepper with the seeds. Yikes.

  2. This recipe is brilliant. Cook it exactly as instructed and it’s delicious. If you’re used to it a bit hotter, put in one chile arbol you’ve soaked in boiling water and use the soaking water for the 1/2 cup of beer. Fantastic, thanks!

  3. Laylita, I have been using your recipes for over a year and I LOVE LOVE how the food comes out. My Husband and parents get excited every time I cook b/c they never know what comes out :)

  4. Just found your site through Facebook. So glad I did. I love trying new recipes & especially ones that have a Spanish influence. In many recipes it says to use beer. I’m not a big beer drinker but I have cooked with it. I’m just never sure what type to use since there are so many different tasting ones out there. Can you tell me what you use please.

    1. Hi Michele – Most of the Ecuadorian recipes that use beer use a Pilsener beer (it’s not a very strong beer, both in terms of taste and alcohol %). In the US, I use Corona or Stella which are easy to find and will not overpower the taste of the food.

    1. Hi Susana – You could use chicha (fermented corn drink), but it might be hard to find. Another option is white wine. Some easier to find non-alcoholic options include a not too sweet sparkling cider, beef broth or simply sparkling water.

  5. Hola Laylita , sus recetas son riquisimas. Deseo saber si puedo sustituir la cerveza por cualquier otro licor? o simplemente no agregar, mi esposo no le agradan las carnes con alcohol.

    Puedes usar chicha en lugar de la cerveza, o como dices tambien simplemente agua.

  6. I am trying this recepite with a twist, I did not have all the ingredients so I substituted alot. I used Onion Onion from Tastefully simple instead of real onions, and since this was a spur of the moment thing I am letting the meatt simmer with the marinade. I hope it turns out good!1

  7. I have just returned from Ecuador and while there I had this dish and it was fabulous. I will let you know how this recipe works for me! Thanks!

  8. This is it!! My husband keeps talking about “red beef” that he used to have when he was younger in Cuenca and I of course was attempting a pot roast with paprika that ended up sort of Hungarian. ;-) This is it, I’m so relieved to have found it! Woo hoo!

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