preparation time: 30 minutes
marinating time: 1 day
cooking time: 4 hours
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Puerco pibil (or cochinita pibil if it involves a whole suckling pig) is a slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán. It formed part of a memorable Mexican-themed dinner over the holidays in 2005/2006, along with chicken mole and fried plantains. This particular version is modified from Robert Rodriguez’s recipe in the special features of the “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” DVD. The list of ingredients looks daunting, but it’s really quite easy to prepare once you’ve got everything.
pork butt (aka Boston butt or shoulder) – 5 lbs
annatto (achiote) seeds – 5 Tbsp
black pepper – 1 Tbsp
cumin seeds – 2 tsp
allspice seeds – 8
cloves – 1/2 tsp
orange juice – 1/2 cup
white vinegar – 1/2 cup
lemons – 5
habañero peppers – 2
garlic or shallot – 8 cloves
To make the marinade, grind the annatto seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper, allspice, and cloves to a fine powder. After some experimentation, we found that a coffee grinder is the only way to break down the surprisingly robust annatto seeds. Seed and vein the habañero peppers and chop coarsely. Dump the peppers and spice mixture into a Ziploc bag with the orange juice, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic or shallot, and a splash of tequila.
Trim the pork butt and cut into 5-cm cubes. Put butt cubes into the Ziploc bag with the marinade, shake it all up and throw the whole mess into the refrigerator for a day. If you remember, give the bag a good shake two or three times during the day.
To cook, preheat the oven to 160C/325F. Line a large baking dish with banana leaves, ensuring adequate overlap to avoid leakage. Pour the pork cubes and marinade into the pan, wrap with the banana leaves (using more leaves on top if necessary) to form a tight package, then seal everything with tin foil so that no steam can escape during cooking. If banana leaves are not available, you may just use foil (not as aesthetic but just as effective). Roast for about 4 hours until the pibil is meltingly tender.
Unwrap the banana leaves and salt to taste. Serve the pibil with rice and simple steamed or sautéed vegetables.