Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cochinita Pibil/Yucatecan Roasted Pork

Akumal, Mexico
photo from locogringo.com

Are you winter-weary? Well, I shouldn't be because we have had a very mild winter so far. We just got a bit of snow yesterday, which we all are celebrating because our weather has been so dry.


Nearly 30 years ago, at about this time of year, I was desperate to get away from the cold and the brown of winter. I went to a travel agent (this was a long time ago!) and said, "I need to go somewhere warm."

Thus began Dan's and my love affair with Mexico. That first year, we went to Cancun, which was then a miniature version of its current self. We traveled to a little village called Playa del Carmen, where chickens roamed the cobbled stones and scratched along dirt roads. We ate spicy tortilla soup and drank Dos Equis in an old hotel restaurant right on the water.

In the past 30 years, we have stayed up and down the coast of the "Costa Maya." Things have changed a lot there. In Playa, the chicken coops have been replaced by chic boutiques and cruise ships drop swarms of visitors, from far-flung corners of the earth.

But, our love of the place has endured--turquoise water flecked with the sparkling sun and pure white sand which somehow manages to stay cool. Hibiscus and bougainvilla grow wild with abandon, tumbling over gracious haciendas and humble casitas alike.

 Magical. And, one of the best things about this area of the Yucatan? The cuisine is incredible, fresh, complex: a blend of Mayan, Caribbean and Spanish. 

Because I am longing for a Yucatecan meal, I think tonight will be cochinita pibil, translated from Mayan as "little pig in a pit." Traditionally, a whole suckling pig is slow-roasted in a barbecue pit in the ground. I do not have a cochinita or a way to cook it  pibil (underground) but I do have a package of pork shoulder, a slow-cooker and Rick Bayless' elegantly easy home-method recipe (from his wonderful cookbook, Mexican Everyday). Let us begin!

Cochinitia Pibil
photo by Jon Sullivan

Cochinita Pibil
Serves 6

Half a 3.5 ounce package achiote seasoning*
3/4 cup fresh lime juice (divided)
half a 1-pound package banana leaves, defrosted if frozen (optional)
3-pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
1 large white onion, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
Bottled habanero sauce, if desired (such as Frontera brand)

Fresh corn tortillas, toasted; or rice

Place achiote seasoning, 1/2 cup lime juice and 2 teaspoons salt into a small bowl and use back of spoon to create a smooth, thick marinade.

If you have banana leaves, cut two 2-foot sections and use them to line a slow-cooker: Lay one down the length, the other across the width. Lay in the pork and pour marinade over and around the roast. Scatter white onion over top. (I never can seem to find banana leaves when I need them, so usually I make this dish without.)

Pour 1/2 cup water around meat. Fold up banana leaves (if using) to roughly cover everything. Cover and slow-cook on high for 6 hours, until meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.

While meat is cooking, combine red onion and remaining 1/4 cup lime juice in small bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, toss and set aside to marinate, stirring from time to time.

Use tongs to transfer the meat and onions to dinner plates. Spoon off any fat floating in the juices. If there is a lot of brothy sauce--2 cups or more--ladle it into a saucepan and boil it down to about 1 cup to concentrate flavors. Taste sauce and season with salt if needed; then spoon over meat. Top with lime-marinated red onions and serve with hot sauce, if desired. Make tacos with toasted tortillas or serve over rice.

*Achiote seasoning is earthy and rustic; not at all spicy.
It can be purchased at Mexican groceries
or through many on-line stores (including amazon).

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