Cochinita Pibil – finally tackled! My sis, Monica, and I teamed up this morning to cook a hunky 7.5 lb. bone-in porky bad boy. This Yucatan slow-braised pork goodness wrapped in banana leaves has haunted me for a good 5-6 years and led to a few sleepless nights. Not just any Pibil recipe, but Rick Bayless’ original grilled Pibil from his James Beard award-winning cook book, Mexico One Plate at Time (MOPAT). I’ve read this recipe countless times with joy, eager to jump into the kitchen, ready to roll up my sleeves. Yet, my ongoing dilemmas always boils down to two sour pickles: I need a spice grinder or steal the hubby’s coffee grinder. (Really? Invest in a grinder just to make one dish; who on earth would do that? My stubborn self never allowed me to buy one, based on my foolish principle, I guess. That’s silly, right?) and I need a kick-ass grill pit or dig my own pit out back for the sake of authenticity. Mind you, neither of which my hubby would happily agree to. As such, I’d turned to other Pibil recipes found online & via a friend which yielded decent “eats” but I yearned for more superior result. My mind and fingers always return to the doggy-eared MOPAT pages on my kitchen counter.
Recently, I discovered Rick Bayless’ slow-cooker version of Pibil. I compared the grilled and slow-cooker recipes and identified the following differences:
Grilled Pibil: 1) called for 12 lbs. of pork butt/shoulder 2) grind dried spices to make your own achiote marinade 3) marinate the meat for several hours/overnight before grilling a few hours on a grill or in the oven.
Slow-cooker Pibil: 1) called for only 3 lbs of pork meat 2) uses a store-bought block of achiote seasoning package for the marinade 3) no marinate time, but cook directly in a slow-cooker for 6 hrs.
I had a cooking epiphany (if you will) with my newfound knowledge the other night. Why not grind my own spices, make my own paste like the grilled version but use 7-8 lbs. of pork butt (no plans to feed my local town with a 12 pounder). I’ll skip the overnight marinate time and save digging my own pit for another day by employing my barely used, kitchen relic, the slow-cooker. In a few hours, I could be stuffing my face with my own Pibil, perhaps? Dilemmas resolved! Cochinita Pibil – so ON! And yes, I was the “silly” fool who hi-jacked her hubby’s coffee grinder. A spanking new replacement awaited him the next morning.
Monica and I rarely are in the same kitchen cooking together. It was a real treat to have her down in the trenches with me this morning to overcome a nagging recipe. Here’s our take on the MOPAT recipe.
Some cooking notes: 1) Monica had a brilliant idea to poke some holes with a knife into the big hunk of meat to allow the marinade to penetrate deeply into the flesh. Good call, Mo! 2) We wanted Pibil like, TODAY. 6+ hours on low was a bit of a torture for the impatient Mai sisters so we started with 2.5 hours on HIGH in the slow-cooker to jump-start the cooking process then reduced to LOW for another 2 hours (+ maybe another 30-45 min). Five + hours later, the results are: moist, flavorful, tender fall-off-the-bone Pibil. 3) To avoid the meat turning into mush, we kept the slow-cooker on the Keep Warm setting for a couple of hours while we ate and cleaned-up.
We decided to pair our hard-earned Pibil (Just kidding! It was super easy to make.) with thinly sliced red onions pickled in lime juice & Thai chili (my added touched), fresh avocado, chopped cilantro, and spicy tomatillo/habanero salsa. The whole thing was wrapped in warm corn and flour tortillas.
T’was a really good meal and this could seriously feed a crowd. My sis’ only complaint was we needed to up the ante and make a spicier version with a redder achiote colour on the meat on the next round. Noted!
Serves 8-10 people (or more?)
Pibil Ingredients :
7.5 -8 lbs. bone-in pork butt/shoulder
3 tsp annato/achiote seeds
4 tsp dried Mexican oregano
4 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds (I ran out of cumin seeds, used 1 tsp cumin powder)
1 stick canela/ cinnamon, 2 1/2 ” long (break up into pieces with fingers to help grinder along)
1/2 tsp cloves
3/4 C (+ or -) freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 C (+ or -) freshly squeezed orange juice
10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
4 tsp kosher salt
2 long pieces of frozen banana leaves, thawed (roughly 2 ft each)
1/4 Cup water (to add to slow-cooker later)
1. In a spice/coffee grinder, add cumin, oregano, peppercorn, cloves, canela/cinnamon stick, grind until fine & powdery (as fine as possible). Pour powdery mix into a bowl.
2. Add annato/achiote seeds into grinder. Grind until fine and powdery. Pour grinded annato/achiote mix into the same bowl with the other spice mix. Add salt.
3. In a blender, add lime/orange juice, spice mix, and garlic. Blend until very smooth. Once blended, our blender yielded 1.5 cups of marinade.
Prepare Pork Butt:
1. Place bone-in pork butt in a large bowl or container. Using a sharp knife, pierce a few cuts into deepest part of the meat.
2. Pour marinade over meat. With clean hands (gloves helps here), evenly massage marinade into meat, ensuring all nooks and crannies are covered. Set aside.
Prepare the Slow cooker:
1. Line banana leaves in the slow cooker. Lay first piece horizontally at the bottom of slow cooker. Lay second piece vertically. Gently pressing down the leaves to the bottom to make room for the pork butt.
2. Add pork butt inside slow cooker with all the marinade liquid atop banana leaves. Pour 1/4 Cup of water along the sides of the meat. Like a present, fold over the banana leaves, tucking in the pieces firmly.
3. Place lid over slow cooker. Set on HIGH for first 2.5 hours. Then reduced to LOW for 2 hours (give or take another 30-45 minutes) for added insurance. LOL. After 5 + hours, check meat for tenderness. Tenderness is confirmed when meat has shrunken, with bone exposed, and falls apart easily with a fork. Occasionally, drizzle some of the braising liquid over the meat.
4. Skim off excess fat from surface. Ladle about a 2-2.5 cups of the braising liquid into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to about 1.5 Cups. When ready to serve, use two forks to shred enough of the meat intended for that meal (unless serving the entire pork butt in one sitting). Pour the reduced liquid over shredded meat and mix evenly. This ensures added moistness to the meat.
Putting it all together:
1. On a serving tray, we had a bowl of chopped avocado sprinkled with fresh coriander/cilantro, pickled red onions marinaded with lime/orange juice and thai chiles, fresh limes (for those wanting to squeeze a little atop their pibil tacos), and more cilantro/coriander sprigs.
2. Warm corn/flour tortillas ready to go.
3. A couple of salsas of choice: we had roasted tomatillos and spicy habanero. We bought salsas from a local mom & pop Mexican market that cranks out quality, fresh, homemade salsas daily. This spared us a step; more time to chow down.
Pickled Red Onions Ingredients:
2 small or 1 large red onions
1/4 Cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1-2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice (optional)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp granulated sugar
4-5 fresh Thai chiles (optional)
1. Slice red onions into paper-thin rings. Rinse cut onions under running water for 10-15 seconds and drained well.
2. Place onions into small bowl. Add lime and orange juices, kosher salt, sugar, and Thai chiles. Use a knife to poke a few holes into each chile pod to release some heat.
3. Mix well. Set aside to marinate. Occasionally, give the onions a toss. Serve with Pibil when ready.