Cochinita pibil, a great slow-roasted citrus-y pork dish, comes from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico — that’s the states of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. Traditional Yucatecan food is a fusion of early European with native Mayan food and preparation.
Cochinita pibil evolved from a combination of Spanish pork with pre-Hispanic Spices and cooking.
If you were making this in Yucatán, pork shoulder, leg or loin would be used, along with the juice of *Seville or bitter oranges and achiote paste (ground annatto seed). Then it would be wrapped in banana leaf, and slowly roasted over hot stones buried in a pit underground. Mayan “cochinita pibil” translates to “baby pig roasted buried under ground”. The tender pork is the result of marinating it hours in very acidic juice as well as slowly cooking it for hours.
Achiote gives cochinita pibil it’s vivid orange-y sienna color, and is best if added in paste form, which is made from grinding the achiote (annatto seeds) along with other spices.
1 1/2 Cups Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
1 1/2 Cups Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
90 grams/3.17 ounces Achiote Paste
4 Cloves Garlic
Sea salt to your taste
Black pepper to your taste
3 LBS Pork Shoulder, Leg or Loin
2-4 Large Banana Leaves
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil or Melted Lard
Dilute achiote paste in the juice. Add the salt and pepper. Cut pork into stew-sized pieces and add the garlic. Marinate the pork in the achiote-juice mixture in a covered dish in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. Marinating is essential but I’ve marinated it for less time when I had less time, and it was still good. But it must be said, when it comes to this marinating, the more time you can give it, the better, and certainly don’t marinate it for less than one hour.
WRAP AND ROAST
Pre heat oven to 325F.
To prepare banana leaves, hold them over a gas burner or put them in a pan over medium heat. Heat them until they change color a bit, and soften. This keeps them from ripping and tearing when you handle them as you wrap the pork. Be careful not to leave them too long, or they’ll become “toasty”; brittle and easily breakable.
In rectangular pan, lay one banana leaf lengthwise and one along the width. Place marinated pork, pouring marinade on top of it, on the leaves and pour vegetable oil or melted lard over pork. Fold the banana leaves over pork and turn the wrapped pork so it’s seam-side down in the pan. Make sure leaves are moist so they won’t burn. Cover with foil.
If you can’t get banana leaves and only use foil: you can do this but leaves do add a subtle flavor, so it’s nice to get them if you can. They are often available at Latin markets, as is the achiote paste.
Bake for 2 hours, 15 minutes. (45 minutes per pound at 325.)
Remove from oven and carefully remove foil. The pork will be very tender and should fall apart easily when pulled with fork. If not, return to the oven and cook until tender. Shred pork with forks when done.
I once prepared this dish in a slow-cooker and it worked beautifully…
I once prepared this dish without banana leaves and without being able to use my oven, and used a slow-cooker instead. It worked beautifully, probably because it was able to cook so slowly. So if you think that might be more convenient for you, don’t be afraid to try it!
You can serve the cochinita pibil with frijoles and rice, and red pickled onions on the side or on top. It’s also great as tacos in warm corn tortillas, or in sandwiches on warm bread.
*Sour or Seville Oranges can be found at farmer’s markets or large grocery stores. If they’re not available to you fresh, in season, bottled juice like Goya naranja agria is typically available at Latin markets, or La Lechonera brand sour orange juice is available various places online. Also, if you dislike the idea of going bottled and not fresh, equal parts orange, grapefruit and lime juices mixed together produce a reasonable approximation of Bitter or Sour Orange.