Cochinita Pibil

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Simply Recipes contributor Hank Shaw‘s Cochinita Pibil, or pulled pork braised in citrus and achiote. ~Elise

Cochinita pibil (ko-chin-ee-ta pee-beel) is an easy braised pork dish that originally comes from the Yucatan in Mexico. It is one of my girlfriend Holly’s favorite dishes to cook, and ever since she first encountered recipes for it, first in Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico and then in a book called Mexican Border Flavors. Holly makes it whenever she can.

This is gorging food. We once made it with nearly four pounds of pork shoulder and invited another couple over for dinner – we ate the whole thing, with a pile of rice and lots of beer. It’s so good you’ll find yourself fighting over the last shreds of meat.

Holly doesn’t like me adding the Mexican dry cheese queso seco to her pibil, but I like the contrast between the cheese and the acidic marinade. We sometimes break out some pickled onions to serve with this, too, as it is traditional.

Don’t be tempted to add heat to this dish with chiles: It’s not supposed to be fiery hot, although the bright red of the achiote paste, which is largely crushed annatto seeds, cornmeal and garlic, sure make it look picante. You can find achiote paste in any Latin market; you want achiote rojo, not the green kind (achiote verde).

If for some reason you don’t eat all your cochinita pibil at one sitting, it will keep for several days in the fridge. Achiote is an essential ingredient for this recipe, there is no substitute.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds pork shoulder
  • 1 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
  • 1/2 cup lime juice, juice of 4-5 limes
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 3 ounces of red (rojo) achiote paste, available in Latin markets
  • Pickled red onions (optional), for garnish
  • Dry Mexican cheese (queso seco), for garnish
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • Lime wedges, for garnish

Method

1 The night before or the morning before you plan to serve this, mix the orange and lime juice with the achiote paste and salt in a blender until combined. Be sure to rinse the blender soon afterwards, as the achiote stains. Cut the pork into chunks of about 2 inches square. Don’t trim the fat, as you will need it in the braising to come. You can always pick it out later. Put the pork in a non-reactive (glass, stainless steel or plastic) container, then pour over the marinade mixture. Mix well, cover and keep in the fridge for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.

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2 Cooking this takes 3-4 hours, so plan ahead. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a large casserole with a double layer of heavy-duty foil, or a triple layer of regular foil – you want a good seal. (Traditionally, cochinita pibil is wrapped in banana leaves, which add a wonderful flavor to the pibil. So, if banana leaves are available—you may be able to get them at the same store as the achiote paste, or at an Asian market—consider using them. Just heat the leaves first to make them more pliable.) Pour in the pork and the marinade and close the foil tightly. Put the casserole in the oven and bake for at least 3 hours. You want it pretty much falling apart, so start checking at the three-hour mark.

3 When the pork is tender, take it out of the oven and open the foil. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl, then shred it with two forks. You don’t have to shred the pork, but I like it this way. Pour enough sauce over the meat to make it wet.

To serve, either use this as taco meat or eat it the way we do: Over rice, garnished with cilantro, lime wedges and queso seco, a Mexican dry cheese a little like Greek feta. Pickled red onions are a traditional garnish, and if you like them, they’re good, too.

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