Grilled watermelon will surprise you

How time flies! We have already entered the second half of summer, having passed the longest day, which seems to have come round faster than ever this year. It may be the second half of summer but I’m still prowling around the courgettes plants waiting for them to spring into action, ditto with our broad beans and the tomatoes haven’t a notion of ripening yet. Luckily everything is looking healthy and with time we’ll have the usual gluts.

Meanwhile I’ve been obsessing about watermelons. This is in addition to my barbecuing obsession, as I have this memory of a dish we ate whilst travelling in Mexico. Long ago, before the lockdown, we were in Campeche on the Yucatan peninsula where I ate the most amazing grilled watermelon. It was one of the most memorable dishes that I had on that trip, maybe because it was so surprising. I ordered it because it sounded so odd. Grilled Watermelon Fillet with Recado Rojo. It came to the table, king of the plate with little piles of pickled vegetables and avocado around it. Pretty as a picture and the flavour and texture was so surprising. Later that day I had the good fortune to pick the chef’s brain and I jotted down the recipe, gram for gram in my notebook where it lounged until this summer when I bought my barbie.

I was slightly nervous the first time that I made it, as good memories have been known to trick the taste buds but the recipe worked. Spot on and very simple, which truth be told is what you need for a barbecue. 

There is one small hitch – the recipe uses achiote paste, which is known as Recado Rojo in the Yucatan. Achiote is made from seeds of the annato plant, a small tropical evergreen plant that grows in Mexico. It’s an orange/red spice, which smells a little peppery and tastes slightly sweet, nutty and earthy. I have a box of achiote, which I bought home with me but I know it’s not so readily available here so I Googled alternatives and came up with a recipe that has accessible ingredients and is a good substitute. 

This recipe involves a little forward prep – the watermelon needs to be marinated for twenty-four hours – but the beauty of this is that when it comes to the day of the barbecue, all the work is done. Just put the watermelon on the grill, resist poking it until it’s lightly charred, then flip, cook the other side and serve. We ate ours with lightly pickled cucumber and mint.  

Grilled Watermelon Fillet with Recado Rojo Serves 6


• 1 small watermelon 

• 25g achiote/recado rojo/or the paste below

• 200mls white wine vinegar

• 500mls water

• 4g salt

• 2g cracked black pepper

Homemade Recado Rojo/
Achiote paste substitute


• 1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika

• 1-2tbs water

• 3/4 tsp oregano

• ¼ tsp ground cumin

• ¼ tsp ground cloves

• ½ tsp turmeric

• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped

Mix all of the ingredients to a smooth paste.

First peel the watermelon. Using a sharp knife slice off the top and the bottom of the melon. Place the melon on the chopping board bottom side down; this will give you a steady melon to work with. Carefully peel the melon rind away, cutting downwards, then turn the melon over and repeat.

Chop the peeled melon into half, then chop each half into 4cm slices.

Mix 25g of the achiote/recardo Rojo paste together in a fairly big bowl with the vinegar until it has dissolved, then add the water and salt and pepper. 

Submerge the watermelon slices by carefully arranging them in the bowl – it will be quite a snug fit. Cover and leave aside in a cool place for 24 hours.

Lightly Pickled Cucumber and Mint


• 1 cucumber

• 100mls white wine vinegar

• 2tbs sugar

• ½ tsp salt

• A bunch of fresh mint.

Put the vinegar, sugar and salt into a bowl then mix together to dissolve

Peel the cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise then remove the seeds with spoon.

Place the cucumber on a chopping board then cut into skinny slices on the diagonal.

Strip the mint from the stems and chop finely.

Put the mint and cucumber into the vinegar mix and toss well. Leave aside for at least 15 minutes.

To cook the melon fire up the barbecue or heat a grill pan

Take the melon from the marinade, shake off excess marinade then place on a hot grill. Grill each side for two to three minutes until nicely charred.

Serve with little piles of pickled cucumber.

Lettercollum Kitchen Project

22, Connolly Street. Clonakilty

Karen Austin

Karen Austin is the co-owner of the Lettercollum Kitchen Project in Clonakilty.

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