The boys start back to school today and Michael went back to work after a well-deserved holiday break, which means we have returned to our weekdays full of drop-offs, pickups, multiple schedules, homework, and little time for preparing dinner. Tackling big cooking projects on weekdays is out of the question, so we are making easy weeknight meals such as this achiote-marinated pork. I found the recipe for cochinita pibil in Rosa’s New Mexican Table by Roberto Santibañez and was immediately drawn to it. The traditional preparation calls for rubbing a whole pig in adobo, wrapping tightly in banana leaves, and roasting the pig in a large pit in the ground. Since we don’t have a pit in our backyard (or anyone else I know, for that matter), the easy oven method works just fine for us. The pork is marinated for up to 24 hours, then wrapped in banana leaves and baked slowly for a couple hours.
A few of the ingredients may not be common in your area: banana leaves, achiote paste, and bitter oranges (Seville oranges). The banana leaves add flavor and keep the meat moist during cooking. Achiote paste is a blend of ground annatto seeds, garlic, spices, and some vinegar. It has a deep red color and will stain anything it touches, so wear an apron when working with it. The bitter oranges are just that, not sweet like the oranges we’re accustomed to eating out of hand. In the DC area you can find frozen banana leaves and achiote paste at Hispanic grocery stores, some of the larger international grocery stores such as Lotte Plaza, Grand Mart, Shoppers Food Warehouse, and some other grocery chains. I even found the banana leaves at Wegman’s. I’ve not found bitter oranges, so we use apple cider vinegar. If you can’t find banana leaves, just wrap in foil instead. And if you cannot find achiote paste, try making your own.
The achiote paste adds a musky flavor, and the marinade isn’t full of heat so it’s easy for the kids to eat as well. The dish is very easy to prepare, just cut the pork, blend the marinade and toss with the meat, refrigerate for up to 24 hours, then wrap in banana leaves and bake. The meat cooks for a couple hours, so make sure you start it in time for dinner. You can also make it ahead and reheat, and the meat is delicious wrapped in tortillas and topped onions, salsa, guacamole, and cilantro.
Make Ahead Tip
Prepare the pork and bake according to directions (do not shred). Cool to room temperature then refrigerate. Reheat in a 350° F/175° C oven for 20 to 30 minutes, then shred.
Slow-Cooked Achiote-Marinated Pork (Cochinita Pibil)
- large mixing bowl
- 11x9 baking dish (or other large baking dish)
- heavy duty aluminum foil
- 3½ pounds pork butt or shoulder (cut into 1-½ to 2-inch pieces)
- 10 ounces banana leaves ((You’ll use about half of it.))
- ¼ cup orange juice
- ½ cup fresh squeezed bitter orange juice ((or cider vinegar))
- 3½ ounces package achiote paste
- 2 limes (juiced)
- 5 teaspoons salt
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (crumbled)
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- refried beans
- caramelized onions
- lime wedges
- Add all the marinade ingredients to the blender jar. Blend at low speed until the achiote breaks into small pieces, then increase to high and blend until smooth.
- Put all the pork pieces into the mixing bowl and pour the marinade over it. Toss the meat until it’s thoroughly coated with the marinade. (I used my hands, wearing gloves of course.) Refrigerate for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
- Lay the banana leaves flat and cut any thick edges away. Gently rinse the leaves under cold water and wipe away and white spots. The leaves split easily, so handle with care. Pat dry. Turn on a gas or electric burner. Using tongs, carefully pass each leaf over the heat, until the top of the leaf turns shiny and softens. Do this quickly, in about 5 seconds, so it doesn’t scorch. Flip the leaf and repeat. Use a damp kitchen towel to wipe both side of the leaves to remove any remaining dirt or spots.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F/175° C.
- Line the baking dish with banana leaves, overlapping them as necessary to completely cover the bottom and sides. Some of the pieces may hang over the sides, and that’s fine.
- Transfer the pork and all the marinade into the dish, spreading the pork into an even layer. Fold overhanging leaves onto the pork and cover the top with more leaves, tucking them between the baking dish and the leaves in the dish. Cover dish tightly with foil.
- Bake for about 2-½ hours, checking at the 2 hour mark. The pork should be tender enough to pull apart with a fork. Remove from the oven and let stand covered for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and top layer of leaves. Transfer pork and juices to a serving bowl. Coarsely shred with two forks, and serve hot.