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Authentic Cochinita Pibil: Mouthwatering Yucatán-Style Barbecued Pork

Authentic Yucatán-Style Cochinita Pibil Barbecued Pork Recipe

Transport your taste buds to the Yucatán Peninsula with this irresistible cochinita pibil recipe. This traditional Mexican dish combines tender, slow-cooked pork with a vibrant achiote marinade and smoky banana leaf wrapping. The result? An explosion of flavors that will have you coming back for more!

While true cochinita pibil is traditionally cooked in an underground pit called a pib, our recipe brings those same incredible flavors to your backyard grill or oven. Get ready to impress your friends and family with this show-stopping main course that’s perfect for your next fiesta!

The Magic of Cochinita Pibil: A Culinary Journey

Cochinita pibil isn’t just a dish – it’s a celebration of Mayan culinary heritage. This recipe captures the essence of the Yucatán, blending aromatic spices, citrus, and slow-cooked pork into a meal that’s both comforting and exotic. As you prepare this dish, you’ll be taking part in a tradition that stretches back centuries, connecting you to the rich history of Mexican cuisine.

Essential Spices for Your Cochinita Pibil

The heart of cochinita pibil lies in its unique blend of spices, known as recado rojo. This crimson-hued paste is a symphony of flavors, featuring:

  • Achiote seeds – the star of the show, providing both color and earthy flavor
  • Mexican oregano – more floral than its Italian cousin
  • Whole cloves – for a touch of warmth
  • Ceylon cinnamon – milder and sweeter than cassia cinnamon
  • Black peppercorns – for a gentle heat
  • Cumin seeds – adding depth and earthiness
  • Allspice berries – a New World spice essential to the flavor profile

Toasting these spices in oil or lard awakens their flavors, creating a marinade that’s truly unforgettable.

The Perfect Pork for Your Cochinita Pibil

While traditionally made with a whole pig, our recipe uses pork shoulder (butt) or leg (ham) for practicality. These cuts offer the perfect balance of fat and connective tissue, ensuring your cochinita pibil is moist, tender, and packed with flavor.

Banana Leaves: The Secret Wrapper

Wrapping the marinated pork in banana leaves is more than just tradition – it’s a crucial step in achieving the authentic flavor and texture of cochinita pibil. The leaves impart a subtle, herbaceous aroma while keeping the meat moist during cooking. Find them in the freezer section of Asian or Latin American markets.

Smoking and Slow-Cooking: Perfecting Your Pibil

While a traditional pib isn’t feasible for most home cooks, we can recreate those smoky, tender results on a grill or in the oven. Low and slow is the name of the game here, with the pork cooking for about 5 hours at 250-300°F. This patient approach allows the collagen to break down, resulting in meat that practically melts in your mouth.

Serving Your Cochinita Pibil

When it’s time to serve, unwrap your banana leaf parcels with a flourish – the aroma alone will have everyone’s mouths watering! Shred the pork and mix it with its flavorful juices. Serve with warm corn tortillas, pickled red onions, and a fiery habanero salsa for the full Yucatán experience.

Cochinita Pibil (Yucatán-Style Barbecued Pork) Recipe

Ingredients

For the Marinade:

  • 1 whole head garlic, separated into individual unpeeled cloves
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) lard or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup achiote (annatto) seeds (1 1/2 ounces; 40g)
  • 2 tablespoons (about 6g) Mexican oregano
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 (3-inch) Ceylon cinnamon stick, or a 1 1/2-inch piece of cassia cinnamon (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons (about 8g) whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon (about 4g) whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon (about 4g) whole allspice berries
  • 3/4 cup (175ml) bitter (Seville) orange juice, or 1/4 cup (60ml) each lime, orange, and grapefruit juice
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) soy sauce
  • Kosher salt

For the Pork:

  • 4 pounds (1.8kg) boneless pork shoulder or 6 pounds (2.7kg) bone-in pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch-thick slabs
  • 6 to 8 banana leaves (see note)
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 white onion, sliced
  • 12 bay leaves

To Serve:

  • Warm corn tortillas
  • Yucatán-style pickled onions and salsa

Directions

  1. Start by charring the garlic. Thread cloves onto a metal skewer and grill over a gas flame until blackened on all sides, about 3-4 minutes. Alternatively, blacken in a dry skillet over high heat. Once cool, peel off the charred skins.
  2. Create the marinade by heating oil or lard in a skillet over medium heat. Add achiote, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin, and allspice. Cook for about 2 minutes until fragrant. Transfer to a blender with the peeled garlic, citrus juice, vinegar, soy sauce, and a generous pinch of salt. Blend until smooth, adjusting salt to taste and thinning with water if necessary to achieve a ketchup-like consistency.
  3. Coat the pork thoroughly with the marinade, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight for deeper flavor.
  4. Prepare the banana leaf parcels by laying out 2-3 overlapping leaves. Place a piece of marinated pork in the center, topping with some tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and bay leaves.
  5. Wrap the pork tightly in the banana leaves, folding the bottom up, the top down, and rolling in the sides. Secure with kitchen twine and place on a baking sheet or aluminum tray. Repeat for all pork pieces.
  6. Prepare your grill for indirect heat cooking. For charcoal, light 3/4 chimney of coals and arrange on one side of the grate. For gas, preheat half the burners to medium-high.
  7. Add hardwood chunks to the coals for smoke flavor. Place the tray with wrapped pork on the cooler side of the grill and close the lid. Maintain a temperature between 250-300°F, smoking the pork for 4-5 hours. Add wood chunks hourly for continued smoke flavor.
  8. The pork is done when a metal skewer inserted meets no resistance. Remove from the grill and transfer to a serving platter. Unwrap the banana leaves, shred the pork, and mix with the flavorful juices.

Notes

For the best flavor, seek out Ceylon cinnamon, available in specialty spice shops or Latin markets. It has a milder, sweeter taste than regular cassia cinnamon. If unavailable, use half the amount of cassia cinnamon. Find banana leaves in the freezer section of Asian supermarkets.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
382 Calories
27g Fat
7g Carbs
27g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 382
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 27g 34%
Saturated Fat 10g 49%
Cholesterol 103mg 34%
Sodium 401mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 27g
Vitamin C 26mg 128%
Calcium 62mg 5%
Iron 2mg 14%
Potassium 518mg 11%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

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