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How To Make Panuchos and Salbutes

California Taco BellWhere’s the Mexican Food?

Anyone who lives here will tell you that one of the best things about living in the Yucatan is the food. When we visited here and bought a house, we were still clueless about Yucatecan cuisine… we had no idea about the treasure trove of tastes and delights that we had stumbled into. Our idea of Mexican food was formed in California, where Taco Bell and chicken enchiladas rule the day. So imagine our surprise when we couldn’t find a quesadilla or a burrito to save our souls (or our stomachs), but instead were presented with tiny little tortillas and things like castacan and cochinita. What the hey?

As in many cultures, the food was another avenue of learning for us about the unique place that Yucatan holds in Mexico and in the world. And learn we did.

Fast forward seven years and now we’re very practiced at eating everything from that aforementioned cochinita and castacan to pavo relleno negro and papadzules. We know what a pib is and we can tell the difference between a habanero and a xcatic.

In the interest of passing on our hard-won knowledge, we plan to bring you a recipe from time-to-time. Some will be reproduceable, others might just be for show. The food here is not just full of flavor, but it is full of stories too. We are not cooks by profession, but we tend to eat rather regularly. And we love a good tale as much as a good table. Panuchos in the Yucatan

Here, then, in response to a request that was sent to Yucatan Living recently, is how we have learned that one can make authentic Yucatan panuchos and salbutes.

How To Make Panuchos

1. Sharpen your machete, stroll casually into your backyard and select a healthy pollo (chicken) or, if it’s a special occasion, a pavo (turkey). Using the machete, remove the head. Let drain. Deposit in a bucket of warm water for several minutes until the feathers can be easily removed by your eldest daughter. Remove feet and internal organs. Wash thoroughly.

2. Pick some naranjas agridulces (sour oranges) from your tree and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Add achiote (annatto paste) until thickened. Add sal (salt) to taste. Spread generously over the bird inside and out. Wrap bird in moist hojas de platano (banana leaves).

3. Remove your son’s soccer ball from your pib (the one- to two-foot-deep baking hole you’ve dug in the back yard). Start a wood fire in the pib and let burn until you have a floor of glowing red embers. Spread two to three centimeters of moist earth over the embers. Deposit the pollo in the pib and fill the hole with dirt. Let bake until done, usually 1 to 2 hours depending on the size of the bird (more time is required for a standard pavo).Making tortillas in the Yucatan

4. Send your wife, suegra (mother-in-law) or the woman in your family with the smallest hands next door to the Maseca, Sumasa or Minsa tienda (store) to purchase half a kilogram (about a pound) of harina de maíz (corn flour), more commonly called masa. She will know to mix this slowly with water (roughly two cups masa with 1/4 to 1/3 cups water), while kneading the dough into a ball.

5. Cut off the bottom of a 50 gallon oil drum and prop it about a foot off the ground with large stones on two sides. Start a wood fire underneath.  Wait until any oil or other residue on the metal is burned away before using.

6. Your wife, suegra, hermana (sister) and a few other women in the family will sit around a table. Each will portion about two tablespoons of masa dough from the ball and pat into a tortilla using nothing but her tiny hands. The resulting tortilla will be about four inches in diameter, maximum.

7. She will set the raw tortillas, two at a time, on the hot metal comal (grill) constructed from the 50 gallon drum, letting them cook for about 30 to 45 seconds on each side. If she is planning to make panuchos, she will tamp them down a bit around the edges with an index finger (the tortillas tend to inflate when you do that). When each tortilla is finished cooking, she will deposit them in her lek (round, dried, hollow gourd with the top cut off), which has been lined inside with a clean, brightly-colored kitchen towel. Keep covered.

8. Remove the baked bird from the pib and let cool. Your second daughter will shred the meat from the bird by hand into short strips about two centimeters long with the circumference of a soda straw. Keep the shredded meat in a bowl and cover. Don’t forget to remind your daughter to wash her hands before and after.

9. Squeeze the juice of several limones (Yucatan lemons, which are more like limes) into a small bowl. Add finely-diced habanero chile picked from the bush growing next to the front door and, optionally, finely-diced cilantro.

10. By now, your youngest daughter (or perhaps the friendly wife of a neighbor) has diced some jitomates (tomatoes), pepinos (cucumbers),aguacates (avocados) and maybe lechuga (lettuce).  Someone has brought out a bowl of cebolla morada (purple onions), previously sliced and marinated in naranja agria.

11. Now it’s time to make a panucho. Take a warmed, cooked little tortilla balloon, and slit it open enough to deposit a spoonful or two of black bean paste inside. Drop the tortilla into a pot of hot oil and deep fry it.

12. Remove the now-crispy tortilla, place it on your plate, layer on lettuce, shredded chicken or turkey, cucumber, cebolla morada, tomato and avocado, in that order. Sprinkle habanero sauce over all, if you like to sweat and pant while you eat. That’s a panucho!

13. Eat and enjoy, probably with a side of ice-cold Mexican Coca-Cola.

Would you Rather Have a Salbute?

Then skip Step 7. Drop the fresh uncooked tortillas directly into the hot oil for deep frying. The resulting tortilla will be softer, and will not be puffed up like a balloon. Skip Step 11 and go directly to Step 12. That’s a salbute!

Repeat Step 13. Often.

Buen provecho!


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42 Responses to “How To Make Panuchos and Salbutes

  1. [...] Off-topic from Spain, but just read this wonderful recipe for panuchos (tasty Yucatecan snack) on Yucatan living. [...]

  2. My mouth is watering. However I think it is easier to go out to a local restaurant and buy some.

  3. Actually, we couldn’t agree with you more! But it’s kind of fun to know how they make them…

  4. I love you guys and your writing. Especially when it is about food!

  5. I am a Yucatecan. I have lived in the U.S for sixteen years, the first thing I get when going to visit my relatives in Merida is cochinita and panuchos and for dessert “caballero pobre”. I have heard that there are Yucatecan restaurants in San Francisco, Ca (which is where large concentrations of people from the Yucatan live). I wish there was a Yucatecan restaurant near me, but there is none. I will just have to wait for my next trip. Thank you for the pictures and the tasteful memories that you brouth to my mind.


  6. I need advice at what to do if a pollo start running headless around my back yard. Seriously, next time, I better fly to Merida to have a paaaaa….nucho?
    Thank for all your job doing Yucatan Living.

  7. My husband lived in Yucatan on and off for 15 years. He’s drooling like Pavlov’s dog.

  8. What do they eat for Easter in the Yucatan? Are there special dishes always served or do they vary?

    Blood usually doesn’t bother me but I still don’t think I could cut the head off a pollo.

  9. Thanks WG. I use to refer people to the Eladios web site. I will now tell them to visit YL for great Yucateca food ideas. As WG stated, while many of the Mercados in area Colonias (Chuburna, Aleman) will have great Yucatecan food. Or, the Mercado Santa Anna in Centro. The best food come from your wife’s mother, sister, aunt, and amigas who can cook at home. I miss that part of my life in Merida. I had the best Frijole con Puerco at my Sister in Laws casa. The best Pib. The best Black Bean dip. And of course, the best home made Habanero Salsa on earth, which we call home made Chili. :-)

  10. JD: where in the US do you live? In this area, I have heard of ONE other Yucateco but no more. Would love to go to the Bay area one day to blow my husbnd’s mind over hearing his language spoken in the US.

    And BTW, wht is castacan? My resident Maya says he’s never heard of it.

  11. Oh boy that sounds like mucho trabajo to me. I think the vendors on the streets are much easier. I wish though that I can have one now but sadly I am back in Canada and they don’t let us keep chickens in the backyard where I live.

  12. If someone out there wants to learn how to speak Mayan, perhaps we can chat someday. I live in Oregon. My people know me as Tilan Juan. I am not perfect.

  13. Thank you for your offer, Tilan Juan. We don’t know anyone who is perfect, so you are in good company.

  14. I was reviewing this article, and I thought, Mexican food by any other name is still Mexican food. Just some minor ingrediant variations and name differences. We here in Texas has some thing like Panuchos/Salbutes, which we call Tostadas. No, not the Taco Bell version. My dad (1st generation TexMex) taught us how to take Tortillas de Maiz and deep fry them in grease (yes, real lard like they use in Mexico), till they are crisp. They are round and flat, not folded. Then we top it with ground beef we fried with garlic, onion, tomatoe paste, and other spices. Then we put shreded lettuce and sliced Avocate on top as well. Top that with home made chilie salsa. We have Pinto Bean dip, Yucatecos make black bean dip. I dont mean the ‘old El Paso’ kind. I mean, we take the beans we cooked over night. Put them in a fryin pan, and smash them with a smasher, until they are dip smooth. Then, we take the fried chips we made eairlier, to dip it with. Granted, the Yucateco Tamale and the Tejano or Norteano Tamale are different. We use Corn Husks, not banana leaves. Weather you are eating home made Yucateco or home made Mexican (not Taco Bell) food. Enjoy it with a glass of Cerveza or coca-cola, and musica tradicional en espanol with familia. It will bring joy to your heart. :-)

  15. To Nancy, yes, it is hard work to put all the ingredients together and cook honest to good Mexican/Yucateco food. But, once you’ve done it and have tasted your creation, it is well worth the effort. I remember when me and my brother (Roberto) were small kids. My dad and mom would have us help make the tamales. While we did not like the work, we did enjoy eating the tamales once they were cooked. My dad was a traditionalist when it came to Mexican cooking. He would go to the market and buy a pig/hog head, and cook the meat off it, to make the tamales. His home made chili salsa was the best (when I say chili, I dont mean the Wolf Brand kind. Chili for us is Salsa, like Pace, or El Yucateco Brand is). He used only the best. He would cook the jalepeanos in a pan, until the odor would cause tears (lol), then combind all the ingredients and smash them in a Mocajete or stone bowl. Today’s Mexican and Yucateca women hardly make home made tortillas. I was amazed when I saw women in Gran Plaza doing it. I think is was on for Merida En Domingo. My dad, taught my mom (traditional Chicken Fried Steak and Patatoes gringa) how to make Flour Tortillas. She learned very good. Those tortillas were great, hot off the stove, we put butter to melt on it. Some times w springle sugar over them. I miss those days. Yes, Nancy, it is hard work. But, the rewards are wonderful. :-)

  16. Fellow Yucateco food lovers. A couple of years ago my husband and I wrote a food and travel book titled Foods of the Maya, A Taste of the Yucatan (available Amazon.) Our traditional recipes include substitutions for ingredients that are difficult to find outside the Yucatan, and methods of cooking that have been adapted to modern kitchens and are less complicated than some of the traditional ones. These recipes may help some of you that are not living in this wonderful part of the planet to duplicate some of the dishes that you’ve enjoyed here.

    Nancy Gerlach
    Chelem Puerto, Yucatan, Mexico

  17. Good to know! Thanks, Nancy…

  18. Had a craving for Mexican style food tonight so decided to get inspired on internet. Your article was most amusing and informative but I decided to skip step one of this recipe and reach into my freezer. Half an hour earlier we caught an 5 foot iguana in the vegetable garden and I actually thought about using him but way more work than I wanted . Making the tortillas and toppings was quite enough.
    As to step # 4 ……..I added Ricado, achiote powder to make the tortillas lovely Orange color.
    Extra cold cerveza……..hmmmmm

    Jenny Wildman
    Maya Beach, Belize

  19. Sounds delicious… glad you skipped the iguana, though!

  20. My wife and I have had the privilege of traveling throughout the Yucatan peninsula every year for nearly 20 years. We have always marveled at the food, and always felt sorry for the gringos who went to the high class restaurants instead of eating the street food or going to the cocinitas. There is a particular tiny restaurant in Isla Mujeres that serves the best salbutes I have ever run across. The tortillas have such an incredibly aromatic corn flavor that I have never seen duplicated.
    I especially like the commentary on how you start the recipe. I have raised small animals in the past for consumption, and your description of starting by saying “Sharpen your machete…” is indeed spot on for how most Mayan folks begin. It all comes down to understanding where your food comes from.
    I have just discovered this website, and can’t wait to check out the rest of it. Adios.

  21. If preparing a panucho sounds like lots of work, don’t worry, there’s this place in LA ALEMAN, on 26th avenue across from Aleman Park, almost across from IZA drugstore. The name of the store, if i’m not mistaken, is “EL PANUCHO DE KANASÍN”. One panucho will fill your stomach because they’re not big, but tall! They have a lot of turkey meat and many traditional things to dress them.

    Another place in LA ALEMAN, is la “TERRACITA DE LA ALEMAN”, in front of the Cano y Cano school and the OXXO. Ohh, the best panuchos ever! Get the “pico de gallo sauce” to put on your salbutes or panuchos and a fresh Horchata. You should also ask for their delicious “cáldo de pavo” (turkey soup) or a “vaporcito” (a small tamal) to finish your dinner. If you prefer you can also get a “Colado” another tamal, which is softer and better.

    If you’re thinking of visiting Mérida, el MERCADO DE LA ALEMÁN is also a good option if you want all this stuff as breakfast.

  22. I am a “gringa” married to a Yucateco for 20 years, living in Houston. Your site has really been helpful for me to understand how to make dishes I have been trying to do for years. My husband wants dishes like Mom used to make & it is really difficult to find English versions of recipes.

  23. Good luck find panuchos anywhere in central Florida. Even the “Authentic Mexican” restaurants have no idea what they are. :-(

    Unfortunately, I do not have enough daughters to make this recipe, and I fear my HOA would not allow the 55-gallon cooking drum in my yard.

  24. You could also make a healthy version of this by skipping the oil & using the warmed straight off the griddle flour or corn tortillas, they taste better with no oily after taste.

  25. Yucatecan food in the US? I doubt it. It took Mexico City a long time to have Yucatecan restaurants. I still eat Taco Bell crunchy tacos in St. Louis, but never would tell someone that it’s Mexican food. They are better than White Castle. Remember, Yucatecans don’t consider YUC part of the rest of the country.

  26. Hi Ellen!
    Long time no Yucatan…. and always missing it, especially the food. Luckily we make it at home but the ambiance is definitely missing. There’s nothing like being there and having Panuchos or Salbutes in Sta Ana park, sitting around and chatting with friends…. maybe having a cool agua de pitaya too!
    Best of luck…. if you want recipes or more on Mexican food let me know or just check my blogs…..Saludos de Las Vegas….

  27. If anyone lives in Vermont, there is a great restaurant in Brattleboro called 3 Stones that serves the best Yucatan food I have ever had.

  28. Really great article! Loved the authenticity of the cooking methods. I just got back to the US from a study abroad program in Mérida, for six and a half weeks. The goal was to improve my español by speaking absolutely no English for the entire time. Not only did I achieve that, but I even learned a bit of Maya! I also learned a ton about the food and culture living with my host family; ahora Mérida is like a second home for me.

    What I’m really trying to say is that it’s been less than a week since I returned, and I’m already craving my Yucatecan food. I miss eating cochinita pibil and marquesitas in the streets with a side of Mexican Coca-Cola. :( I’m secretly planning ways to go back to Yucatán ASAP.

    I live in Indiana, and I am not familiar with any Yucatecan restaurants. I have a recipe book which I purchased in my time abroad, and I even managed to find some of the rarer ingredients in a local Mexican food market, but panuchos seem to be evading me. Are there any good tips or tricks for making these in a modern American kitchen, or even in a communal college dorm kitchenette? Not only do I want to make panuchos for myself, but I would also like to introduce my family and friends to them as well. (I already had a great success with tacos de poc chuc. I have a feeling these will become another staple.)

  29. Mary, you seem to have been chosen by the Yucatan and now you’re hooked. We know the feeling! Stay tuned to our Facebook page… not only do we report all our new articles there but anytime we find information about a Yucatecan restaurant somewhere around the world, we definitely post it.

  30. Ellen, Sunday is Cinco de Mayo and I am making Sopa de Lima and Panuchos! I’m on a mission to find annatto paste in southeast Texas! I have yet to find one ingredient to make Micheladas. Sending best friend, ex hubby, to Latinos markets tomorrow. How cool is that?

  31. Sounds like fun!! And you should be able to find the achiote paste at the Mexican market.

  32. This is great! I love panuchos, I have been looking for the recipe and have wanted to make them for years. I enjoyed eating them in Merida and Progresso Mexico. Thanks for the recipe, it was a delightful story too.

  33. Great article and great info here in these comments! But, really…does Taco Bell really rule in California? There’s no corner of this former territory of Mexico where you’d need to settle for Taco Bell. And burritos probably rule more than chicken enchiladas if we’re only keeping score of what people like to order at a taqueria or taco truck. I decry the absolute lack of panuchos in Sacramento, however. We have tons of decent to great Mexican food including an incursion of chilango-style offerings, but alas, no Yucatecan food. I just got back from a roadtrip to Portland where I found at least three places serve panuchos, and I quite enjoyed them at Angel Food & Fun in the Cully neighborhood (considered by most locals as a culinary desert).

  34. Thanks for the recommendations, Rick. We’ve also had great panuchos in San Francisco…

  35. To ’tilan juan’: It’s been nearly 5 years since you posted, But indeed there is at least one place in Oregon now. Taqueria Antojitos Yucateco is a food cart in Portland I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday afternoon. This was my first experience with panuchos and salbutes, but it won’t be my last! The tortillas were obviously hand made, Not sure if the wires were crossed somewhere, but the salbutes I received had the puffed up softer shells vs. the thinner crispy shells with what I ordered as panuchos, available with pollo, cochinita pibil, or asada. I tried them all! Look for this place at 10175 SE Stark St. Portland, OR 97216.

    To ‘Mary’: Having not been to the Yucatan myself, I cannot comment on the authenticity of what I got, though pico de gallo and shredded queso were a couple ingredients in the ones I got. If it can be prepared from scratch in a food truck, I’m sure it can be done in a modern kitchen as well.

    My thoughts would be to acquire as many ingredients from your local Mexican/International market as possible. Though a whole chicken, red onions, cabbage and/or lettuce could come from any market. Marinate the chicken overnight in the fridge, bake it in a roasting bag with the naranjas agridulce & achiote, and then shred it by hand. Make your own tortillas, or buy them if you must. Fry them in about 1″ of lard in a cast iron skillet.

    Now I’ve got to hunt down a good Salvadoran place here. Shouldn’t be hard in Portland, but I’m seriously jonesing for some pupusas con queso y loroco!

  36. I loved reading this!
    I am from Progreso Yucatan, currently living in the US. Salbutes is one of my Favorite foods, I’m making them tonight for dinner.
    I’m thankful my mom taught me how to make them because the Mexican restaurants around here don’t make them.

  37. Well… I’m Mexican, not Yucatean though… and I still don’t know what a PIB is… your article made me drool and laugh at the same time… I’ll make sure I have my suegra and sisters and brothers help me make hand-made tortillas… providing I find fresh maize dough… and I will try your recipes… no chickens to kill with my brand new machete I bought to make the recipe… so… it will have to be frozen…

  38. In Houston, there is a great Yucatecan restaurant called Mérida on Navigation. Salbutes, panuchos, horchata. Haven’t been there in a while, now I want to go back! Good memories of my brief stay in Mérida, México waaaaaay back in 1994 or so.

  39. These comments are super cool! I was born in Los Angeles, but my mom (who is on her way from Merida Yucatan to attend my daughter’s college graduation) is the BEST cook…when it comes to AUTHENTIC Yucatan food…tonight it will be Panuchos, tomorrow Cochinita and on Friday the menu looks like Papasules (I think I spelled correctly) its like an enchilada but with pepita (green sauce) and stuffed with boiled chopped egg…my husband can eat a dozen….also, got to have relleno negro, Pib – by the way is amazing!!! kind of like a tamale but, hard on the outside…it is delish! Another classic is puchero, frijol con Puerco and ohhhhhhh by far my favorite bolla de queso relleno,………….that’s one I’m going to pick at tonight with a cold cerveza………………arriba yucas!

  40. In los Angeles on Alvarado street – “Flor de Yucatan” – great food – try the kibis – tortitas de carne with cebolla roja on top

    Also, in South Gate, CA -” Mariscos Yucatan” – even better selections and totally AUTHENTIC – on Tweety

    Enjoy fellow Yucatecos!

  41. Thank you for the suggestions!! We will try to go check them out next time we’re in LA.

  42. Ligia, we have enjoyed everything you mention… how lucky you are to have a mom to cook all that for you!! Arriba, indeed!!


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