Cochinita Pibil (ko-chi-knee-ta pee-beel) is slow roasted pork from the Yucatan peninsula.
By Nancy Lopez-McHugh
Cochinita Pibil (ko-chi-knee-ta pee-beel) is slow roasted pork from the Yucatan peninsula, (in Mexico of course). Traditionally whole suckling pig is used, hence the meaning of Cochinita – baby pig. Pork loin or shoulder or Boston butt is also commonly used in lieu of a suckling pig. The pork is covered in an acidic vibrant juice then slow roasted into tender perfection.
The acidic sauce is traditionally composed of bitter oranges, also know as Seville oranges. When sour oranges are not available then a mixture of lime, lemon and orange juice can be used. Vinegar may also be used in combination with any of the aforementioned acid fruits. The purpose of this acidic sauce is to tenderize the meat. The color in Cochinita Pibil comes from annatto seeds that are ground or made into a paste and commonly know as Achiote. The Achiote gives the pork an orange tone as well as adding its own tart flavor.
After combining, or even marinating, the sauce and the pork it is wrapped in banana leaves then placed over hot stones in an underground fire pit. This pork is buried and slow roasted for hours. That is where the word pibil comes in, it is the Mayan word for buried.
The slow roasted meat will be tender and will fall apart easily. The meat is eaten on corn tortillas and topped with pickled red onions. The red onions are pickled whiled the pork is roasting. The result will be a tender onion with a slight sweet sour flavor. My recipe for the red onion pickles is a bit different from many you will find online. Regardless it has worked great for my Cochinita Pibil tacos.
Some of you may be worried that a lack of an underground fire pit will prevent you from making Cochinita Pibil. No worries, you can make this right in your home oven. This would also be perfect for your slow cooker. Regardless of the slow roasting method this is a recipe that you must make, and soon. As a matter of fact I think Cochinita Pibil is a dish that everyone must try at least once in their life time. But believe me once will not be enough. You’ll crave it over and over again. Mmmm, my mouth is watering now. See I’m already craving it again. Those of you that do not eat or like spicy food (gasping) can still enjoy Cochinita Pibil. This pork dish is mild and does not involve any chiles. The pickled onion recipe can also be adjusted by omitting the Habanero pepper for a completely mild meal.
Before we get to the recipe there are a few things I need to mention. If you do a quick Google search for Cochinita Pibil recipes you’ll get many variations. My recipe, unfortunately, is not one passed down from generations. My family is from the other side of Mexico. Instead my recipe is a result of trial and error. Going back to the Google search, many recipes involve long hours and many processes. Yes, the end results are always worth it. Instead I have tried to max out the flavors with minimal work. The results are pretty darn good, if I say so myself.
If there are any Cochinita Pibil experts or native Yucatan people reading this, you don’t need to tell me that my recipe has too much liquid or that I missed a step. It was all intentional. The reason for all the liquid is a way of braising the meat as it slow roasts. The liquid will slow down the roasting time but the results are a juicy and extremely tender pork. I highly recommend that you do not cut down the liquid in my recipe.
The next thing I want to tell you is about the Achiote paste. It can be hard to find in some areas. I have found the best online sources to purchase achiote to be Amazon and MexGrocer. So if your local hispanic supermarket doesn’t carry it make sure you check them out. Lastly before you begin make sure you read through the whole recipes and steps first. Okay let’s get to the recipes.
1kilo or 2.2 lbs. pork, (shoulder or loin or Boston butt) all excess fat removed and roughly chopped
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar
3 tsp achiote paste
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp Mexican oregano
2 tsp whole cumin seed
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1.5 tsp salt, adjust to taste
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay dried leaves
1. Preheat oven to 200C or 392F and have a large deep baking dish ready to go. In a large bowl combine all the spices and liquids, place in blender and blend until achiote has broken down completely. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Place the pork in the baking dish and using a sharp knife make incisions throughout the meat. Pour the liquid mixture over the pork cover and place in center of oven.
2. Roast the pork for 3 hours. Covered for 2 hours and uncovered for 1 hour. Before removing from oven, test the pork to make sure it is tender and falls apart easily. Also all liquid should have been absorbed.
While the pork is roasting prepare the pickled red onions.
Pickled Red Onions for Cochinita Pibil
3 red onions, sliced into 1/8 in thick
1 large Habanero chile, toasted*
6 red radishes, thinly sliced
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tbs vinegar ( I used apple cider but you could also use white)
1 tsp salt
large pinch black pepper
splash olive oil
*For a spicier taste add as Habaneros many as you like. For a mild pickle omit the Habanero.
1. Place the onion in a large bowl. Bring enough water to a boil to cover the onions. and pour it over them. Cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Next you’ll need to toast the habanero(s), do so by placing directly on the flame. Keep turning to blacken all sides. Remove stem, for a milder taste also remove seeds, set aside.
2. Pour the juice and vinegar over the drained onions and mix well. Next add the radishes, salt, pepper and olive oil. Gently toss to well combine all ingredients. Make a small space in the center of the onions and place the toasted habanero chile, then place some onions over it. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 3 hours before eating.
After the pork has finished roasting allow to cool slightly. Break the meat apart into small pieces or shreds. Serve with corn tortillas and pickled red onions as topping. You may also serve along side rice and beans if desired.
Nancy Lopez-McHugh is a food blogger, photographer and published author. Most recently she has published "Yummy Pics: A Food Blogger's Guide To Better Photos".