I love a well seasoned, slow cooked pork dish. In researching different Mexican recipes I kept reading about Cochinita Pibil. I had never heard of this one before and it seems to be a Yucatan staple. Now I’m familiar with some northern Mexican pork dishes such as “carnitas” and “al pastor” for sure, I make them all the time, but not this one and the name intrigued me. Plus the fact it can be traced back to the Mayans made it all the more fun for me.
In my readings I found that traditionally, Cochinita is served in tacos or tortas for breakfast. Cochinita means “baby pig”, while the Mayan word pibil means “buried.” Generally, cochinita pibil was buried in a pit with a fire at the bottom to roast it. It’s a Yucatan Sunday morning tradition after a night of fun. Several other articles took me to the Saveur website with detailed interviews on Diana Kennedy, The Expat: Diana Kennedy and The Interview: Diana Kennedy who is “the author of nine seminal books on Mexican cooking, a teacher and scholar held in the highest esteem by chefs around the world.” It was fascinating reading and it was fun to learn she was a frequent guest cook at the Perfect Pan, which was associated with Piret’s, a now defunct French Bistro I once cooked at in La Jolla, but originated in Mission Hills here in San Diego.
In her article for the Savannah Morning News, Betty Hallock wrote,““Pibil” refers to the way the pork is cooked – traditionally in a coal-filled pit. The Mayans used not pork (domesticated pigs were introduced by the Spanish) but wild game such as rabbit, boar, venison or armadillo.” I also read turkey was and is used quite a bit as well.
Apparently this Yucatan signature dish is marinated pork using the juice of Seville oranges. The Seville orange variety is sour and is usually used in the production of marmalade. The spices are ground achiote (annatto) seeds, garlic along with clove, allspice, black pepper and oregano, all wrapped up in banana leaves and slow-roasted for several hours. In my research I found that the spice mixture varies from cook to family cook.
I wanted to make this and went to my local Latin market to shop. I purchased annatto seed paste and when the clerk said he had no Seville oranges, the butcher told me to substitute regular oranges along with lime juice instead. I started shopping there recently and found they were as interested in assisting me as I was in their food and culture. I was unable to get any banana leaves though, but figured I could use my trusty Le Creuset for the job. Now I’m sure I’d be missing out on the authentic flavor brought about by the banana leaves, but I thought I’d experiment on the dish first and then dive deeper with locating the leaves for cooking next time. If not at this market I thought I may find banana leaves at an Asian market, which is where I will look next.
I made a few twists in the recipe for my own tastes like piling it on top of rice and beans and topped with some fresh Mexican crema, which is similar to sour cream but not as tart. The nice acidic bite of the pickled red onions with Mexican oregano and chopped cilantro on top was amazing.
Preheat oven to 325°.
- 4 lbs pork shoulder (boneless preferred)
- 4 tsp salt (See Note 1)
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp chile powder
- 1 tsp whole allspice
- 4 whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder (or 1/2 cinnamon stick)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp Mexican oregano
- 2 oz achiote paste
- 1 orange juiced (1/2 cup juice)
- 1 lime juiced (1/4 cup juice)
- 2 banana leaves wiped clean (See Note 2)
- 16 tortillas
- beans of choice
- 4 limes quartered
- pickled onions
- cilantro chopped
- Rub salt on all sides of the pork and set it aside.
- In a dry skillet over medium heat, add cumin, peppercorns, allspice, cloves and cinnamon stick. Toast for a minute or two until you can smell the cumin and pepper. Grind the toasted spices (I use a spice grinder or coffee grinder) to a powder.
- In the same skillet, toast the garlic cloves until they’re charred all over, then add to a blender or food processor.
- Transfer the toasted ground spices to the blender or food processor with the chile powder, oregano, achiote paste, citrus juices. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
- Place a trivet or a ring of scrunched up aluminum foil in bottom of Dutch oven or cooking pot. Cut 2 pieces of kitchen twine or string twice the width of your pot. Lay them across the pot in a (+) orientation, like you're gifting wrapping a box.
- Next, place two banana leaves in the pot, in a (+) orientation, like you're gift wrapping a box. Pour some of the marinade on the top of the banana leaves (center of pot), put the pork on top center. Pour the remaining marinade over the entire pork and carefully fold the banana leaves up and across the pork, like wrapping paper. Tie the kitchen twine together for a complete sealed package. Set the entire pot in the refrigerator for 4 hours minimum or overnight.
- Take pot from refrigerator and set on counter for 15 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 300°F. Pour a 1/2 cup of water into the Dutch oven or pot and cover with lid. Bake for 4 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and pulls easily with a fork. For a 6 lb pork should I have cooked for 5 1/2 hours.
Slow Cooker Method
- Place a trivet or a ring of scrunched up aluminum foil in bottom of slow cooker. Cut 2 pieces of kitchen twine or string twice the length of your pot. Lay them across the pot in a (+) orientation, like you're gifting wrapping a box.
- Next, place two banana leaves in the slow cooker, in a (+) orientation, like you're gift wrapping a box. Pour some of the marinade on the top of the banana leaves (center of pot), put the pork on top center. Pour the remaining marinade over the entire pork and carefully fold the banana leaves up and across the pork, like wrapping paper. Tie the kitchen twine together for a complete sealed package. Set the entire pot in the refrigerator for 4 hours minimum or overnight.
- Take pot from refrigerator and set on counter for 15 minutes. Pour a 1/2 cup of water into the slow cooker and cover with lid. Cook on Low for 8 hours, or until the meat is very tender and pulls easily with a fork.
- While the meat is still warm, carefully transfer the parcel to a serving dish. Use tongs or forks, shred the meat and spoon the cooking juices over meat. Serve with warmed tortillas, beans, pickled onions, cilantro and limes.
- I use kosher salt, typically 1 tsp per pound of pork.
- Before wrapping the meat in the banana leaves, you must heat the banana leaves, either over a gas flame or under the broiler, until they soften. You can do this gently, just until the leaves are flexible. You can easily freeze any extra for another use, too. Look in the frozen food section of a local Mexican or Asian store. A substitute for the banana leaves can be parchment paper.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.