Cochinita pibil

This red-cooked Mexican pork is marinated in an acidic dressing, then cooked slowly for hours, with meltingly tender results. It’s a traditional recipe from Yucatan, where pork would be marinaded in the bitter local orange juice with achiote paste, then wrapped in banana leaves and buried in a fire pit for hours (pibil is Mayan for buried). Those of you without a handy banana tree and fire pit can make it in the oven in a dish sealed tightly with tinfoil – banana leaves, although very decorative, don’t really add any flavour, so you’re not really losing out here. The juice of bitter oranges can be approximated with a bit of vinegar and some lemon juice blended with sweet orange juice.

Unfortunately, while you can do clever conjuring tricks with your lemons, vinegar and tinfoil, there’s not really anything you can substitute for the achiote paste in this recipe. Achiote is what gives this dish its lovely red colour. It’s a made from crushed annatto seeds – in the UK you can sometimes find achiote powder (Barts make it and it’s stocked in the spices section in some supermarkets), but the paste is far preferable. The Cool Chile Company, Mexgrocer and Casa Mexico are good UK suppliers of Mexican ingredients, and will mail you some paste.

To serve four, you’ll need:

825g fat pork shoulder
3 tablespoons achiote paste
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoons each fennel, coriander and cumin seeds, ground in the pestle and mortar
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 crumbled bay leaf
1 teaspoon oregano
10 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 pointy peppers
1 large onion
1 tablespoon salt

Start by chopping the pork into chunks about 3 inches square. Don’t trim the fat away – it will moisten the meat as it cooks. Put the pork in a large bowl with the herbs, spices, juices, vinegar, salt and garlic, stir well to blend all the ingredients and marinate overnight.

When you come to cook the pork, chop the onion into large chunks and brown the chunks in a dry frying pan. Chop the peppers into long strips. Spread the pork and its marinade evenly in a shallow dish, layer the onion and peppers on top, and cover tightly with a couple of pieces of tinfoil, making sure you make a good seal all around the edge of the dish. Roast on a low rack in the oven at 150°C (300°F) for three hours.

When the cooking time is up, unwrap the dish and leave to rest for ten minutes. Serve on tortillas (corn tortillas are great if you can find them – again, they’re sometimes hard to find in the UK) with guacamole, a good dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche (crème fraîche is closer to the crema you’d eat in Mexico), some fresh coriander and Mexican pickled onions. Those onions are the gorgeous pink things in the picture at the top, and they’re a traditional accompaniment for this dish – I’ll put up a recipe for them later in the week.

8 Replies to “Cochinita pibil”

  1. Oh, fantastic – and it’s great to see that they’re selling fresh products as well as their dried chillies now. I’ve always been really impressed with the Cool Chile Company – there are currently about eight of their packets in the spice cupboard. I see they do achiote – I’ll add them to the original post.

  2. It looks lovely Liz – but should I be concerned about the pretty acidic sounding bitter orange substitute coming into contact with aluminium foil and then cooking it?

  3. I think you’ll be fine, Dave. The foil doesn’t come into contact with the marinade at all; it just acts as a lid – when I cooked this, there was no sauce on the foil at all, just condensed steam. And if you’re *really* worried about it, you can always just line your foil with greaseproof paper.

    All the same, Dave is right and you shouldn’t cook or store acidic foods touching foil (or an aluminium pan), because the aluminium can react with acids and leave you with holes in your foil and black bits on your food. Basically, you’ll have created a very simple battery. Cannisters are also occasionally made from aluminium and can cause problems, as I discovered when I tried to store some sumac in a pretty shiny tin. It ate a hole through the bottom. A shame – it ruined my nice tin and my sumac.

  4. I cooked this at the weekend, and it came out smelling like Mexico (well, how I imagine Mexico might smell, never having been there). Worth every second of preparation, and a trip across London to buy achiote paste. Thanks for the fantastic recipes – more Mexican deliciousness, please!

  5. Just put the marinade and pork together, very excited! Will let you know how it turns out, thanks for the recipe, I’ve been wanting to make this for ages after trying it at Wahaca in london.

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