As summer wanes and fall approaches with temperatures cooling a favorite Mayan pibil recipe came to mind. This time Cochinita Pibil; marinated pork slow cooked in banana leaves. Cochinita literally means suckling pig, but for the sake of convenience pork shoulder will suffice as will a Dutch oven in lieu of a charcoal fired pib (pit) dug in the backyard.
It’s a perfect dish for late summer or early fall entertaining. You can read more on the Mayan origins and cooking methods for this recipe in a previous post; Pollo Pibil. (see here)
Cochinita Pibil serves 4 to 6
- 2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch x 2 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons achiote paste (available at Latin markets) or make your own (see recipe below)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves (Mexican if available)
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 1 large red onion, peeled and minced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
- 2-4 fresh red chilies, seeded and finely minced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 6 tablespoons fresh Seville orange juice (or 4 tablespoons fresh orange juice + 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice)
- water or stock as needed
- 2 large fresh banana leaves (or frozen, available at Latin/Asian markets)
- warm fresh flour tortillas (see here)
- pickled red onions
- sour cream or Greek yogurt (optional)
- fresh cilantro leaves
Cut the pork up and set aside while you make the marinade.
Traditionally the marinade ingredients would be ground together in a mortar resulting in a textured loose paste. The other option is to combine the marinade ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and pulse to achieve a somewhat smoother marinade.
Using either method combine the achiote paste, pepper, oregano, cider vinegar, peanut oil, red onions, garlic, red chilies, ½ teaspoon salt, 6 tablespoons Seville orange juice (or orange and lime juices) and grind or process until well combined.
Transfer the marinade to a large bowl, add the pork, and massage the marinade into the pork. Press the pork tightly into the bowl, cover with cling film, and set aside to marinate for at least several hours, or ideally 24 to 36 hours, refrigerated.
Pickled red onions:
2 red onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced into rings
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
½ teaspoon oregano leaves
¾ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 jalapeno, seeded, cut into thin strips/rajas (optional)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
pinch of sugar
1/3 cup/80 ml cider vinegar + enough water to barely cover
fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish
Blanch the sliced onions in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and transfer to a non-reactive bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well combined. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Roasting the Cochinita Pibil
Preheat the oven to 325F/160C
Line a Dutch oven or roasting pan with two large banana leaves, placing one lengthwise and the other one crosswise, pressed into the pan, with the ends of the leaves extended over the edges of the pan. Spoon the marinated pork into the banana leaves lining the pan and spoon all the remaining marinade over the pork. Fold the lengthwise banana leaf over the pork and fold the crosswise banana leaf over all, tucking it in underneath the bundle to seal it. Add enough water or stock around the edges of the pan to nearly reach the top of the wrapped pork. Place the lid on the Dutch oven, or tightly seal the roasting pan with foil, and transfer to the oven.
Set timer to 1 hour. After 1 hour remove from the oven and check the liquid level in the pan, adding more liquid if needed. Return to oven for another hour. Again, check the liquid level in the pan and add more liquid if needed. Return the pan to oven and cook another 30-45 minutes. At this point the pork should be falling apart tender and very moist.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Open the banana leaves and transfer the pork and what marinade you can to a platter or another pan, cover, and set aside to rest. Remove the banana leaves from the roasting pan and discard. Spoon off any excess fat from the roasting pan and place the pan over medium low heat and reduce the pan juices to the consistency of a sauce. Taste and add additional salt if needed. Using a fork, pull the pork apart and return the pork and any marinade to the pan and stir into the sauce. Reheat if needed when you are ready to serve.
Traditionally the Cochinita Pibil would be presented at the table with condiments set out in separate bowls, along with a basket of warm tortillas for everyone to help themselves.
The other option is to tuck cochinita pibil into warm flour tortilla, just off center, and spoon extra sauce over the pork. Dot with sour cream (if using), top with pickled red onions and fresh cilantro leaves. Roll up the tortilla and transfer to individual plates for serving.
Suggested: Serve with individual bowls of posole (see here) and you have a Mayan feast!
2 tablespoons annatto seeds (available at Latin markets)
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
6 allspice berries
¾ teaspoon sea salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
4 tablespoons lime juice
water if needed
Annatto seeds are very hard and must be softened before proceeding with the recipe. Place the annatto seeds in a small pan and add water to partially cover. Place the pan over low heat and bring to a simmer for a minute. Remove the pan and set aside for an hour or so to soften the seeds. Drain off the water and proceed with the recipe.
Place the annatto seeds, cumin seeds, oregano, allspice berries, and salt in a mortar and grind together. Transfer to a bowl and add the garlic and lime juice. Stir until combined with a paste like consistency. If the paste is very thick add a little water to thin. Set aside until needed.