Cochinita Pibil, Sort of

This dish has its origins in the Yicatan, where a whole pig is slathered in an achiote marinade, covered with banana leaves, and slow cooked in a big pit overnight. The pit is lined with stones and a large fire is started and allowed to burn down. Then the pig is placed in the pit, and everything is buried in dirt. The next day it is dug up and the pig is eaten, quite often as taco filling.

This is not something most people can do, so this is an adaptation for a smoker. The idea comes from Rick Bayless, who slow cooks it in a komado grill (like the big green egg). I don’t have one so made some adjustments to use my offset barrel smoker.

Note that the two essential ingredients are the two hardest to find: achiote paste and banana leaves. Both are absolutely essential to the dish, though. If you can’t find banana leaves you can try just smoking it uncovered, but at some point you should wrap it in aluminum foil so it doesn’t get too smokey.

The image shown here depicts how this meat is usually served – it is an awesome taco filling. Traditionally it is topped with red onion pickled in sour orange juice. Since this is pretty much impossible to get here, I substitute lime juice.

Ingredients

  • 50 grams achiote paste (1/2 of a typical package)
  • 3/4 cup lime juice (divided)
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 3 – 4 lb boneless pork shoulder
  • 1 package banana leaves
  • salt

Start by making the marinade. In a large bowl mix 1/2 cup of the lime juice with the achiote paste, along with 2 tsp salt.  You will probably have to work it with your fingers to get it all dissolved.  Place the pork shoulder in the bowl and make sure the marinade completely covers it.

raw_cochinita_pibil_scaled_5Div1461

Cover and refrigerate. You should let it marinate at least several hours, up to overnight.

When you are ready to cook, first start the fire in the smoker, then prepare the banana leaves. Trim the hard edges and square them up. Line a large roasting pan with overlapping leaves, going both ways in the pan. The should be long enough to wrap completely around the pork. You should try to heat the leaves a bit first – either over the flame of a gas burner, or even in a microwave. This will make them more flexible and easier to work with. Place the pork in the center of the pan, and drizzle all the marinade over the meat. Now wrap the leaves around the pork. You can use butcher’s twine to secure them if needed.

The picture below is of my first attempt at this. The leaves were not cooperative. But the results were still good.

smoking_cochinita_pibil_cropped_5Div1464

Pour twp cups of water in the pan (not shown here) and place in smoker. Try to keep the temperature at around 300 F. It should take around 5 to 5 1/2 hours if you maintain the temperature all through the time. Us a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. It is done at around 190 F. This may seem very high, but the wrapping will keep the meat moist, and the high temperature allows all the collagen to break down, and the result is a roast that will just fall apart.

While the meat is smoking you can prepare the onions. Slice a red onion very thinly (preferably using a mandoline to keep the slices even). Place in a non reactive bowl (plastic or stainless is fine), and mix with the remaining 1/4 cup lime juice and about 1/2 tsp of salt. Mix well, cover and let sit.

Once the meat is done, let it rest a bit, and cool off to the point you can handle it. Then shred it (should be easy!) into a serving bowl. There should be some liquid in the pan you can drizzle over the shredded meat. Heat up a stack of corn tortillas in the oven or microwave, coarsely chop some cilantro, and let everyone build their own tacos.

And now you have a delicious meal inspired from the Yucatan.

 

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