Cochinita Pibil: Mayan-Style Slow-Cooked Pork

The cuisine of Yucatan, Mexico, sometimes comes under fire from the uninitiated for being too subtle in flavor, too basic, and ultimately, not “Mexican” enough. And while it can sometimes lack the pizazz (“Pizazz?” What am I, 60?) of the infant-sized burritos wrapped in a bedsheet of a tortilla, as you might find in the Northern region of the country, the pared-down, quality ingredients used in Yucatecan cooking often stand just fine on their own. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that Yucatecans like to sprinkle habanero on almost everything, which brings the fire to more subtly seasoned-slow cooked meats.

This dish represents my favorite combination of the flavors of Yucatan working in perfect harmony: The saltiness of the achiote, the sweetness of the pickled onions, and the burning heat of the habanero.

Cochinita Pibil, or literally, “Baby pit pig,” is one of our favorite examples of cooking from this part of Mexico. Cochinita can be found being sold from a cart in almost every small town on the weekends, either in tacos or in tortas, or sandwiches, and topped with pickled red onions and diced habanero.

For our version, we are going to assume a few things. First, that you don’t have access to Sour Oranges, the main component in the pork’s marinade. We are going to assume, though, that you have access to either a Mexican grocery store, or even a mainstream grocery store with a healthy import section. Though our recipe for Cochinita Pibil doesn’t contain any truly crazy ingredients, you may have to poke around your favorite grocery store for a little while. Finally, we are going to assume that you don’t want to dig a hole in your backyard for roasting a whole pig, and will be tackling this dish from the comfort of your kitchen.

How to Make Cochinita Pibil

 

Cochinita Pibil
Serves 12
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
4 hr
Total Time
4 hr 30 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
4 hr
Total Time
4 hr 30 min
25 calories
6 g
0 g
0 g
1 g
0 g
46 g
5 g
2 g
0 g
0 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
46g
Servings
12
Amount Per Serving
Calories 25
Calories from Fat 1
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 5mg
0%
Total Carbohydrates 6g
2%
Dietary Fiber 0g
2%
Sugars 2g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A
1%
Vitamin C
11%
Calcium
1%
Iron
1%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1 package of El Yucateco Achiote Red Paste
  2. 20 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  3. 1 cup of freshly-squeezed lime juice
  4. 1/2 cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice
  5. 1 boneless pork shoulder (about 6 pounds)
  6. 1 package of banana leaves, defrosted if frozen
Instructions
  1. Combine first four ingredients in blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Cut pork into 3-inch square portions, cover with mixture, and marinate in refrigerator overnight, 12-24 hours.
  2. Line a roasting pan with three banana leaves, allowing the edges to overlap on the bottom of the pan, and hang out over the edges. Place marinated pork on top, and cover with remaining marinade. Fold the edges of the banana leaves over the top of the pork, and place three more overlapping leaves on top. Tuck these leaves in along the edges of the pan, forming a tight seal around the pork. Finally, cover the whole tray in aluminum foil, for good measure. The goal is to have no steam escape.
  3. Cook at 300 degrees for 3 1/2 to four hours. Carefully unwrap pork, being careful of escaping steam, and shred meat using two forks.
  4. This dish is best when served in tacos with pickled red onions and topped with habaneros. The combination of salty, sweet, and spicy is amazing!
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calories
25
fat
0g
protein
1g
carbs
6g
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Pickled Red Onions

Pickled Red Onions

Ingredients:

  • 2 red onions, cut in half lengthwise, with the ends removed
  • 1 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds removed, thinly sliced (optional, but recommended)

Method:

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, and blanch onions for 15 seconds. Drain thoroughly, and combine with remaining ingredients, stirring to coat onions thoroughly. Marinate for at least an hour before serving, though preferably overnight.

These two flavors compliment each other beautifully, but if you want to eat your Cochinita Pibil the way they do in the Yucatan, you’ll want to add some heat from habanero peppers. We’ll dial down the heat just a bit, but be warned…these peppers are spicy. And don’t forget to wear gloves when working with habanero peppers…the oils can stay on your skin for a long time.

Cochinita Pibil Tacos

“Mellowed” Habanero Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 habanero peppers, de-seeded and de-veined, diced
  • Water
  • Vinegar

Method:

Place chopped habaneros in a small bowl. Add enough water to cover, and a splash of white vinegar. Marinate for at least 1 hour before serving on top of cochinita and onions.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the junk food blog "Spork & Barrel," and "Brocavore," a blog about food trucks and street food culture. His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, Eat Rockland, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

12 Comments

      1. In case you were wondering, this was a success. Some modifications due to lack of banana leaves and my desire to use a crock pot, rendered delicious pork that we enjoyed fresh last night and as left-overs tonight. Good stuff.

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  1. Made this a couple of times when we lived in Chelem, delicious! I am making it for my Canadian friends this weekend on my birthday this Sunday. No banana leaves at the store today, parchment paper will have to do! BTW…A tiny jar of preserved Yucatecan habanero peppers is $5.99 here. (I got fresh) The Mexicans are getting fleeced!

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