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.
I've been meaning to make cochinita pibil for a couple years now. Of course, the local Whole Foods stocks neither achiote paste nor banana leaves, but I've recently discovered a good Asian/Latino market near the office, so I'm good to go.
We love cochinita pibil! We rarely get the banana leaves though. Foil pressed closely down to the meat in a dutch oven works just fine.
Traditionally, this dish is served with pickled red onions. You'll want to try them - recipes all over the web - they lend a lovely hit of acid when combined with the rich pork.
Yum - I have a piece of pork in the refrigerator - off to buy achiote!
Deb, there's a recipe for the pickled onions in the book, so I'll have to give it a try.
Heather @CeliacFamily says
Wow, that really looks fabulous. I'll have to be on the lookout for the ingredients.
Heidi Boose says
Can the pork be cooked in a crock pot instead? I'm sure there will be some flavor lost without using the banana leaves, but do you think it would be really noticeable?
P.S. I work for Mike 🙂
Hi Heidi. I've been thinking about trying this in the slow cooker but we haven't done it yet. I make barbecued pulled pork in the slow-cooker, and the process should be the same. This isn't a lot of meat to start with, so you could probably use a smaller four-quart slow cooker and cook on low for about 7 hours, maybe 8. The meat should be falling apart when it's ready.
Nate @ House of Annie says
I'm wondering if this can be adapted for a smoker. Might be nice!
Sharlene Thomas says
This is definitely something I'm going to try in the solar oven! Knew there was a reason I bought that pork, this morning. Now, to sneak over to my neighbor's yard and grab a few leaves off her banana tree!
If you get a chance, head over to the Leftover Queen's blog and vote for me for the January Joust entry. It's the Sunny Champagne Chicken dish. Here's the URL: http://www.leftoverqueen.com/forum/index.php/board,5.0.html
I went to school one semester in Granada, Spain and there were a ton of Seville orange trees in the courtyard. We tried eating them, but they were just too bitter. They are, however, excellent for cooking, especially savory dishes you don't want too sweet. Wonderful post--I admire all the love and effort you put into this dish. Quite a feast!
Not sure how I missed this when you posted it, but I just saw it in the BlogHer headlines on my blog and came to check it out. I've never cooked anything using achiote and I'm very curious about it. Love the sound of this, wish I had been there to taste it!
What is your recipe for the Mexican pit pork marinade? You put it on the pork before you put into the pit.