Cochinita Pibil, or Porco Pibil, is a slow-roasted pig in the Yucatan style. Although recipes differ, it is commonly made by first marinating a whole suckling pig in a mixture of achiote (or annatto) seeds, cloves, spices, oregano, sour orange, garlic, and other spices or herbs. The pig is then wrapped in banana leaves, placed in a pit lined with hot stones and cooked slowly for several hours until it falls off the bone.
Believe me, there is nothing I would like more than to follow the “traditional and authentic” route, build a pib (stone-lined well), marinate a whole suckling pig and slowly cook some cochinita pibil as the sun sets over Toronto. Unfortunately, living in an apartment simply does not allow for such luxuries. Neither do city statutes that likely prohibit digging wells in public parks for the purpose of slowly roasting piglets (I think?).
Fortunately, there are some solutions for pit and whole pig digging requirements.
How to cook Cochinita Pibil at home Apart from the ingredients, which we will reach in a second, the biggest impact on the taste of your
is the method you use to cook it. Dry heat, smoke and steam will bring something different to the table, pun intended. And, yes, I know! None of these can really be called cochinita pibil because they are not cooked in a pib. But let’s go with it.
The path of least resistance is undoubtedly the slow cooker. It’s as easy as placing the marinated meat in the container, turning it on and walking away. You can start it before bed at night or before you leave for work in the morning. Either way, you’ll return to a perfectly cooked cochinita pibil, incredibly soft and juicy.
Depending on the
thickness of your pork shoulder, it will take you at least 4 hours over high heat or 7-8 hours over low heat if you cook a piece of meat on the bone. If you cook boneless, you can probably reduce the cooking time at low temperature by an hour.
The only thing that doesn’t drive me crazy with the slow cooker is the lack of some dry heat, which changes the taste of banana leaves. When steamed, as is the case in the slow cooker, I find that the intense flavor of banana leaves is amplified.
Personally, if I use the slow cooker, I omit the banana leaves completely (as shown in the photos). I know, deadly sin! But the flavor is too intense and dominates everything else. But, hey, you’re the boss, applesauce.
in the oven
Although roasting in the oven is as easy as using a slow cooker, it means you can’t leave the house in case something goes wrong.
Similar to slow cooker, you can roast the cochinita pibil low and slow for about 4 hours or lower and slower for 7-8 hours. The choice is yours.
One of the benefits of the oven is that the dry heat changes the flavor of the banana leaves while trapping the steam inside, keeping the pork super juicy and moist.
Smoking pork is the method that probably produces the tastiest results. You get all the benefits of dry oven heat while imparting a smoky flavor that mimics GDP.
If you have a Traeger, it’s as easy as using your slow cooker. Just adjust the temperature settings and go do something else while your pork cooks.
Necessary” ingredients for Cochinita Pibil
The marinade for pork differs slightly depending on the family recipe. However, there are some usual suspects that appear in every cochinita pibil.
Achiote or Annato Paste or Seeds Achiote
also called Annato, are the seeds of the Bixa orellana shrub. It can be used as a spice, food coloring or textile dye. When used in large quantities, the taste is earthy, pungent, and slightly bitter.
You can buy the seeds raw and whole or in paste form made with other spices and herbs. I recommend buying pasta simply for convenience and taste, although it probably contains a small amount of cornmeal.
If you buy raw, you will need to flower the seeds in a little fat before soaking them in liquid. You will also need to get the other spices needed for the marinade, which is not difficult.
One thing that is very important to keep in mind if you make Cochinita Pibil is that most achiote pastes are already prepared with other spices and herbs that you will need in your recipe. For example, the very popular El Yucateco brand contains annatto, all spices, cloves, garlic, oregano and salt.
The flavors in this paste are quite potent, so you don’t really need to add extra spices to your marinade.
You can probably find achiote paste at a local Latino grocery store or online here. If you’re in Toronto, check out Latin World, La Perola or Market-tino.
Sour orange is commonly used as a marinade for meats. Unfortunately, I have never found sour orange in Toronto, but a great solution is to mix orange juice and lime juice.
This will give an amazing sour taste to cochinita pibil!
Herbs, spices and
aromas As mentioned, each recipe differs in terms of the types of herbs, spices, and flavorings used, but from what I deduce, the usual suspects are cloves, all spices, and oregano.
Beyond that, I’ve found bay leaf, cinnamon, tomato, tequila, habanero peppers, vinegar, chili powder, dried chili peppers, and pepper.
Since El Yucateco achiote paste has most of these ingredients incorporated, I don’t use anything else. Trust me, these things are an inexhaustible source of flavor and a little goes a long way.
leaves are traditionally used to wrap pork before being placed in the pib. Not only do the leaves trap steam and help prevent pork from drying out, but they also impart a significant amount of flavor.
As mentioned, steaming the leaves amplifies this intense flavor and aroma, which may or may not be desired. So if you plan to use the slow cooker, which is the recipe I provide below, maybe skip them altogether or use a leaf or two in total.
However, if you roast or smoke, you’ll definitely want to use banana leaves to catch any vapor you try to escape.
The downside is that banana leaves can be a bit hard to find. Your best bet is to try the frozen section of a Latino or Asian market.
How to serve slow cook cochinita
Pibil tacos are the obvious choice here. However, if you find yourself fresh from the tortillas (yucca, corn, flour or lettuce), I recommend serving the cochinita pibil with a little finely shaved white cabbage. It is a crispy, crunchy and filling garnish that works like a salad. Trust me, it works.
As for the ingredients, the classic accompaniment is pickled red onions. These beautiful ribbons of pickled goodness not only brighten the color of pork, but the acid also passes through the rich, fatty meat.