Citizens, your inestimable Wazir – the mighty TFD Himself! – has always had a soft spot for Yucatecan cuisine. My one and only love lived in theYucatán for several years and has a tremendous appreciation for the food of the region and has helped to educate me on its spicy glories!
Cochinita pibil (also puerco pibil or cochinita con achiote) is a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán Peninsula. Preparation of traditional cochinita involves marinating the meat in strongly acidic citrus juice, seasoning it with annatto seed which imparts a vivid burnt orange color, and roasting the meat while it is wrapped in a banana leaf.
Cochinita means baby pig, so true cochinita pibil involves roasting a whole suckling pig. Alternatively, pork shoulder (butt roast), or pork loin are used in many recipes. The high acid content of the marinade and the slow cooking time tenderizes the meat, allowing otherwise tough pieces of meat to be used.
The Yucatecan recipes always employ the juice of Seville or bitter oranges for marinating. In areas where bitter oranges are not common, juice of sweet oranges combined with lemons, limes, or vinegar are employed to approximate the effect of the bitter orange on the meat.
Another important ingredient in all pibil recipes is achiote (annatto), which gives the dish its characteristic color and adds to flavor. It is usually eaten with side dishes such as: corn tortillas, red pickled onion, refried black beans and habanero chilies.
Traditionally, cochinita pibil was buried in a pit with a fire at the bottom to roast it. The origin of the word pibil is unclear as to whether it comes from the Mayan noun for roasting or the verb ‘to roast’ as these are the same word pib.
The puerco pibil is a recurring element of the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico directed by Robert Rodriguez, where it is the favorite food of a CIA agent played by Johnny Depp, who orders this dish every time he enters a Mexican restaurant and urges every person he has lunch with to taste it. He will go as far as killing a cook because his puerco pibil is “too good”.
Rodriguez also includes a recipe for puerco pibil and demonstrates how to prepare it in the special features section of the DVD.
It was from Rodriguez that I cribbed the idea of adding some tequila to the pork mixture and I have seriously adapted the great recipe from Serious Eats as my base. I also include recipes for the necessary pickled red onions and habanero salsa. Combine these all into a soft taco and you have heaven on a plate!
Citizens, I have every confidence you will LOVE this recipe! 🙂
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 1 head purple-skinned garlic
- 1 orange or red habanero pepper
- 2 tablespoons lard (preferred) or vegetable oil
- ¼ cup achiote seeds
- 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
- 4 cloves
- 1 2″ cinnamon stick (Mexican cinnamon, not cassia)
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons whole cumin seed
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
- ¾ cup sour (Seville) orange juice, or ¼ cup each lime, orange, and grapefruit juice
- ⅛ cup Añejo tequila
- ⅛ cup pineapple vinegar (if unavailable use white vinegar)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- Kosher salt
- 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder (or 6 pounds bone-in) cut into 2-inch slabs
- 2 roma tomatoes, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 white onion, sliced
- a dozen bay leaves
- Hickory wood chips, soaked in ½ inexpensive tequila and ½ water
- Pickled red onions:
- 2 medium to large red onions, sliced into thin rings
- 1 cup pineapple vinegar (if unavailable, use white vinegar)
- 1 generous teaspoon dry oregano (Mexican if possible)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Roasted habanero salsa:
- 8 medium (about 3 ounces total) fresh habanero chiles
- 2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- For the pickled onions:
- Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl with enough water to cover the onions, and marinate for 5 hours.
- Serve at room temperature with the Yucatan pork, with refried beans, or on sandwiches.
- For the salsa:
- In an ungreased skillet over medium heat, roast the chiles and garlic, turning regularly, until they’re soft and darkened in spots, 5 to 10 minutes for the chiles, 15 minutes for the garlic. When cool, slip the skins off the garlic.
- In a blender or small food processor, add the garlic and roasted chiles plus the lime juice and enough water to give it a spoonable consistency, usually 2 to 4 tablespoons. Blend until smooth. Taste (gingerly) and season with salt, usually about ½ teaspoon. This salsa will last several days.
- For the pork:
- Separate the garlic cloves but don’t peel them. Thread them onto a metal skewer and grill directly over the flame of a gas grill until completely blackened on all sides. Alternatively, toss them in a dry skillet over high heat until blackened. Peel the blackened skins when cool enough to handle.
- Heat the oil/lard in a skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add achiote, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, black peppercorn, cumin, and allspice and cook, tossing and stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a blender along with the garlic, the sour orange juice, the vinegar, the soy sauce, the habanero and a big pinch of salt. Blend until smooth. Season to taste with more salt. It should be quite salty.
- Pour the marinade over the meat and let it rest overnight.
- Lay out some banana leaves (you can get them frozen at Asian supermarkets). Roast the banana leaf, if you bought it from the frozen section of the supermarket, wait until it is completely defrosted. (Please check the ingredients list below)
- To roast the banana leaf, place it directly over a medium-hot fire of your gas stove, it will start changing color and getting some shiny while in contact with the fire. Make sure not to burn the leaves, we just want them to be pliable.
- Place a hunk of pork in the middle. Top with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and bay leaves. Fold up the banana leaves and secure with twine. Repeat with remaining pork pieces and place all the pork on a disposable aluminum baking dish.
- Light up a chimney full of charcoal in your charcoal grill and spread them out on one side. Add a bunch of soaked hickory wood chunks. Place the aluminum tray on the opposite side from the fire and close the lid. Smoke the pork, aiming for a temperature of around 300°F inside the chamber the whole time, until the pork is tender, about 4 hours. (You’ll have to adjust heat by adding coals and/or adjusting the air vents.) Add extra wood chunks in every hour or so to keep it nice and smoky.
- Take it out, unwrap it, shred the meat, and eat on a soft taco with the pickled onions and salsa.
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