cochinita pipil

Cochinita Pibil

A traditional slow-roasted dish from the Yucatan peninsula, Cochinita Pibil is a combination of Mayan and European influences. For many years, the Peninsula was isolated from the rest of Mexico but its ports were in constant exchange with Europe. This mix resulted in dishes such as this one which combines pork introduced from Spain with pre-Hispanic condiments and cooking techniques.

Traditionally cooked underground over hot stones (the word pibil is Mayan for “pit”), its main seasoning is achiote or annatto, a tree native to Central America and Mexico which was known for its therapeutic properties as an anti-inflammatory and healing agent. Its was used also used by the ancient Mayans as a dye for textiles and for body paint.

For the pork:
3 pounds pork butt
2 tablespoons seasoned achiote paste
1 cup bitter orange juice (you can substitute ½ cup orange juice and ½ cup lime juice)
5 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large banana leaf, about 4 feet long

To make the marinate, mix the achiote paste with the bitter orange, oregano, salt and pepper and set aside.

Cut the pork into pieces and place in a large Ziploc bag or glass bowl. Pour the marinade over the meat, making sure it is all bathed. Add the chopped onion and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

Prepare the banana leaf. Remove the center core from the banana leaf, rinse, dry, and cut the leaf into two 2-foot sections. Toast on a skillet and use the leaves to line a slow-cooker – lay one down the length, the other across the width.

Lay the meat and onions over the banana leaves and pour in the marinade. Fold up the banana leaves to cover everything, roughly encasing the meat. If it doesn’t encase the meat completely, add a few more leaves.

Place the lid on the slow-cooker, turn to low, and cook for 6 hours. (If you don’t have a slower-cooker, cook the meat in a Dutch oven at 300° F for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.)

Remove from the meat from the slow cooker and shred. Place in a large serving dish. Spoon off any rendered fat from the juices and add 1 cup of sauce to the shredded meat. Mix well. Discard the onions and the banana leaves. Serve warm with corn tortillas and pickled red onion.

Though not entirely authentic, I love it with Pineapple Habanero Pico de Gallo, but leave out the red onion if you’re serving the pickled kind.

Here’s a quick and easy version for the pickled red onion (cebolla en escabeche):
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt dissolve. Thinly slice the onion and place in a glass jar. Pour the vinegar mixture over the onions and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before refrigeration. Drain before serving.

Serves 6

Picture courtesy of my amazing cousin, Boni Carmona.

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