Cochinita Pibil

Shame on me… waiting until the last possible day to make sure December 2008 is not entirely void of entries! But wait, don’t get mad — I have a gift for you! Yes! Think of it as a holiday treat! Made just for you! …Are you ready for it?

*Drum roll*

I present to you, hot off the press, the shiny and new Index of Recipes page!

Ok ok, so I lied a bit about making it just for you, because really, I also wrote it for me. I was getting mighty tired of flipping back through the archives, page by page, to find some recipe I remember posting a while ago. But that’s because this blog has been around for over a year (!!) now – can you believe it??

Anyway, I hope your holiday treat was not a severe disappointment. If it makes you feel better, I’d send each of you a little stack of these ginger cookies I made for Christmas if I knew all your addresses (more about these cookies in a future post). But a brand new index page is almost as good, no?

For Christmas this year, Nathan and I went down to Santa Cruz and cooked up a Mexican feast for his family, who were kind enough to let us try out some new recipes on them. Check out this spread:

Feliz Navidad!
Feliz Navidad!

Not bad, right? We made some nopales (cactus) salad, fresh guacamole, mashed black beans, red chile rice, wilted greens with chipotle salsa, shredded chicken in red mole, and homemade tortillas. But the star of the whole dinner was the Cochinita Pibil, a Yucatecan slow-roasted pork shoulder wrapped in banana leaves. It was such a hit and so yummy that we proceeded to make it again for our friends Ben, Erin, and Greg a mere 3 days later. As you can imagine, a slow-roasted pork takes a bit of time to make but honestly, other than time, there’s very little effort involved. So there’s no need to be jealous of my very porky Christmas – because a very porky New Year’s is now within your reach.

Recipe is from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen, an awesome cookbook that Nathan got and now we can’t live without. Actually, every single dish we made for the Christmas dinner is from this book!

Pickled Red Onions:
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced into thin strips
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cider vinegar

2 tbsp achiote seeds (also called annatto)
2 tsp allspice, freshly ground
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1.5 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
3 tbsp cider vinegar
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tbsp fresh orange juice

Everything else:
3 lb bone-in pork shoulder (or 2 lb boneless)
two big pieces of banana leaves (frozen is ok, just defrost it before you use it)
corn tortillas
queso fresco, optional
cilantro leaves, to garnish

Make the pickled onions first: Blanch the onion slices in salted boiling water for a minute, then drain and place in a jar or bowl. Coarsely grind or crush the peppercorns and cumin seeds and add to onions. Add in all the remaining ingredients and enough water to cover. Stir well and let stand for several hours until onions turn pink. These onions will stay good for a few weeks.

Marinate the pork overnight: Pulverize achiote in spice grinder. Transfer to small bowl and mix with allspice, pepper, oregano, and vinegar – you should get a very thick and kind of crumbly mixture at this point.

Chop garlic roughly on your cutting board, sprinkle salt all over the chopped pieces, and mash the garlic into a paste. I find it easiest to use the edge of a chef’s knife but supposedly, the back of a spoon would also work. Add to achiote mixture and mix together. Add in enough water (about 1-2 tbsp) to make a spreadable paste.

In a large bowl that fits the pork, combine the achiote mix and citrus juices. Add in the pork and using your hands, smear and rub the marinade all over the pork. You want the marinade to coat the pork as much as possible. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 2 hours).

Roasting the pork: Preheat oven to 325F. Drape the banana leaves in the shape of a cross over the bottom and up the sides of a large pot (a Dutch oven works really well here). Lay the meat in the middle, pour/scrape any leftover marinade on top of the pork, and wrap up with the banana leaves.

Pour 1 cup of water around the bundle in the pot. Cover tightly and roast in the oven for about 3 hours, or until very very tender (should fall apart when you pull at it with a fork). Every so often, check that there’s still liquid in the pot and add more if it’s dry.

Carefully transfer the meat to a cutting board and pour all the juices in the pot into a large measuring cup. Let everything cool a bit.

Finishing the dish: Shred the meat – use a fork unless you have very tough fingers – and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Return it to the roasting pot. Try to skim off some of the fat that has separated from the juices, then pour a bit of the juices into the pot to keep the meat moist. Keep the meat warm over low heat.

We didn’t do this part but you can also put the rest of the juices into a small saucepan and keep it warm over low heat. (If you want a thicker sauce, reduce it over high heat first.)

Serve the shredded pork with warm tortillas, pickled red onions, queso fresco if you like, and a few cilantro leaves. If you like a wetter taco, add a bit of the extra juices too.

(Makes about 16-18 tacos)