A local interior Mexican restaurant here sells Cochinita Pibil, which I get whenever we take out of town guests for a night in town. Cochinita Pibil literally means little pig buried and roasted in a pit. This stuff is nectar and ambrosia for flavor junkies like me. The pork is marinaded in sour orange juice and ground up Annato seeds, which impart both a red color and a flavor to the meat. The sour orange juice can be replaced with regular orange juice and lime juice which together tenderize the heck out of a pork shoulder. It is then slow roasted for several hours till it falls off the bone. I have previously taken a shot at it that was delicious, but a little Indianized. But then, I bought Rick Bayless’ new book and went to his website and had me an authentic recipe. This recipe is adapted from his Website (which calls for 12 lbs of pork) to suit a small birthday celebration in my family.
1 1/4 tablespoons achiote seeds (I found these at Whole Foods)
1 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 tsp black pepper corns
1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon powder preferably freshly ground
6-7 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tbs. fresh lime juice
3 tbs. orange juice
2 lbs. bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt) roast
2 large onions, thinly sliced.
A few banana leaves or foil (optional, if you use a slow cooker or Dutch oven)
You will also need: Tortillas, rice, pickled onions and salsa as accompaniments.
1. Achiote paste or marinade:
According to Bayless, you can buy achiote paste (he recommends the Yucateco brand, Amazon has it). The reason he recommends you buy it is because the annato seeds are hard to grind up. But if you have a powerful coffee grinder, this is not a problem. So here goes.
1. Grind together the achiote seeds, oregano,the black pepper, cumin, cloves and cinnamon, till the mixture forms a fairly fine powder (this takes a little patience, but make sure you do it so that your marinade is not gritty).
2. In a blender, combine the ground mixture with salt, the garlic, lime juice and orange juice. Blend until smooth. You should have a smooth marinade. The blender makes a finer paste than the food processor, so it is preferred here.
2. Marinade the pork:
In a large bowl, combine the meat and marinade, turning the meat to coat it evenly. Bayless recommends you marinade for several hours or overnight. But, I skipped this step because I was planning on using the slow cooker.
3. Cook the pork:
1. Use the reserved marinade to coat the onions. Place half the sliced onions at the bottom of the cooker, add the pork and then add the remaining onions. I cooked this on for 6 hours without banana leaves or foil. The resulting meat qualified for all the usual appellations (tender, succulent, falling off the bone, flavorful-did I forget any adjectives?)
2. Lift the pork out of the cooker. It is likely to fall apart into pieces as you do it. Place it on a plate and shred it (with forks or your hands) as you would pulled pork.
3. Strain the onions out of the pan juices and mix in with the meat.
4. Pour off the pan juices into a small sauce pan and reduce to half the volume. Mix this into the meat as well.
5. Garnish with pickled onions and cilantro and serve with a salsa of your choice and tortillas or Spanish rice.
If you dont have a slow cooker, you could do this in a Dutch oven in the oven (Bayless recommends 3 hours at 325˚F). Or you could do the meat on a grill as follows (instructions verbatim from Bayless, I did not try this): Heat a gas grill to medium-high. Cut 3 sections of banana leaf, each about 1 foot longer than the length of a large roasting pan. Line the bottom and sides of the roasting pan with the leaves, overlapping them generously and letting them hang over the edges of the pan. Lay the onions and meat in the pan, drizzle with all the marinade. Fold in the banana leaf edges over the meat. Cut 3 more sections of banana leaf slightly longer than the pan. Lay them over the top of the meat, again generously overlapping; tuck them in around the sides.When the grill is ready, either turn the burner(s) in the center to medium-low or bank the coals of the grill for indirect cooking. Grill until the meat is thoroughly tender (work a fork in near the bone—the meat should easily come free), usually about 4 hours. If your grill has a thermometer, aim to keep the temperature between 300 degrees and 350 degrees.
Pickled onions. (This is different from Bayless’ recipe, but I usually have these on hand, so I used these). This recipe is really in that cross-over place between Indian and Mexican food and is a standard Indian condiment). I don’t have a formal recipe, but here is what I do.
1 large onion, sliced thin (sweet white or red)
A couple serrano peppers, sliced thin cross-wise (optional)
1/2 inch ginger cut into thin sticks
Enough white vinegar to submerge the above ingredients
Salt to taste.
Mix all of the ingredient together. The flavors are best if you wait a couple of days before you need this. If using immediately, leave out on the counter for a couple hours before serving. Otherwise, store in the fridge.