This recipe is most certainly the highlight of my foray into Mexican cooking: pork marinated in fragrant spices and cooked in banana leaves, making for an amazing combination of scents and flavours. The banana leaves make all the difference as they infuse the meat with their unique aroma. Cochinita pibil is probably the most famous dish from the Yukatan peninsula, an area in the southeast of Mexico which is the home of many Mayan sites. The origins of this dish are said to be Mayan, too: ‘chanchito’ is Spanish for a suckling pig, whereas ‘pibil’ in the Mayan language refers to something that is buried, probably a reference how this slow-cooked pork dish had been prepared in the past. It is definitely not your everyday Tex-Mex dish! To be quite honest, this is not an easy one to pull off: unless you live beside a Mexican grocer, or, better even, in Mexico, you’ll have to hunt down your ingredients, one by one: banana leaves, anchiote paste, and, finally, bitter orange juice are what gives it such a unique flavour. I got the banana leaves from a Thai grocer and the anchiote paste through the internet. Seville oranges are in season here in Europe as we speak – to be on the safe side I juiced twice the amount and have frozen one. Just in case … Do give it a try, especially if you want to impress guests; keep back a bit of the leaves to decorate the finished dish. Serve it with hot corn tortillas and the sweet and tangy red onion escabeche condiment I have added below, for good measure. Bother recipes are from Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s Mexico: The Cookbook, which I am trying to review for Food52.
Cochinita Pibil with Escabeche Morado (serves 8-10)
For the cochinita pibil marinade:
- 1 kg boneless lean leg, loin or shoulder of pork, diced
- 3 heads of garlic
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 50g achiote paste
- 1 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 3 cloves
- 4 tbs dried oregano
- dried chillies, to taste
- 1/2 cup / 120ml bitter orange juice (ca. 2 Seville oranges)
- 4 plantain leaves (400g)
- 1/2 cup / 125ml bitter orange juice
For the red onion escabeche:
- 4 tbs olive oil
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 5 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 red onions, thinly sliced
- 2 habanero chiles
- 1/2 cup / 125ml apple vinegar
The evening before, heat the grill to 200C/400F and grill one head of garlic for ca. 10 minutes, turning it regularly. It should be lightly brown and soft. Remove and leave to cool.
Place a saucepan over medium heat and gently roast the cinnamon, cumin and cloves until they begin to emit their scent. Add the oregano and roast for a further minute or two. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Place the garlic and all the grilled and dry roasted ingredients in a blender, together with the achiote paste and the orange juice, as well as the dried chillies, if you would like to use them, and process until you have a thick paste. Season with salt. Place the meat into a freezer bag and add the paste, close the bag and mix it well until the meat is fully coated. Place it in the fridge to marinade for a few hours, preferably overnight.
The next day, preheat your grill to 200C/400F. Wash the plantain leaves and place them under the grill, one after another, for ca. 5-10 minutes until they are lightly grilled; you will immediately notice the strong smell, a bit like aniseed. Heat the oven to 200C/400F and place a large ovenproof dish, filled with water, at the bottom. Line a large casserole dish with half the banana leaves, then add the marinated meat and another 1/2 cup of bitter orange juice. Cover with the remaining leaves, close with a lid or with tin foil and cook it for 3 hours. The perfect time to prepare the tortillas, as well as the escabeche: heat the oil in a pan. Add the garlic and spices and keep stirring until the spices start emitting their scents. Add the onion slices and chillies. Stir for another 10 minutes, then add the vinegar, season and leave it to cool. When the meat is done, remove it from the oven. Shred the meat, using two forks. Add a little water, if necessary, and season with salt. Close the lid and place it in the oven for 10 minutes to ensure the meat is warm before serving. Serve immediately with the warm tortillas and the escabeche. What a perfect party dish to bring to Angie’s at The Novice Gardener! She’ll be joined today by with Jhuls @The Not So Creative Cook and Juju @cookingwithauntjuju, who will give her a hand. Do pop over to have a look at who else has joined, and, more importantly, what they have brought along!