Remember when I made this pulled pork? Boy. It was good. Really good. Since then, I’ve made it, um, probably 80 million times. It’s still as delicious and mind-blowing as the first time I made it. But, turns out, there are other ways to eat pork shoulder. Crazy, I know.
Ok, so… this pork is also braised. And melt-in-you-mouth tender. And mind-blowing. But there, all comparisons can cease. This is totally different. This is beer-braised pork’s Mexican cousin, Cochinita Pibil. I had never even heard of Cochinita Pibil until my Dad came back from a trip to Mexico kind of obsessed with it. Being the adventurous family we are, we decided to try making it ourselves. It was really, really good. And then we tried it again. And again.
The recipe is about as simple as it gets- only a few ingredients that pack huge flavor. In researching this dish, I found that, like many traditional ethnic dishes, there are as many ways to make this as there are grandmothers in Mexico. Everyone has their own spin. But for us (sadly, not Mexican- one of the great woes of my life) this simple version can’t be beat. The achiote paste isn’t like anything else, so there isn’t really anything you can substitute in its place. It’s tangy and citrusy and… achiote-y. Mixed with a little OJ and lime juice, it makes the perfect marinade and braising liquid for the pork. As the pork slowly braises and releases all its rich fattiness, it is greeted by the fresh tang of the achiote and it all just kind of works.
The resulting pork is addicting. I can’t seem to stop eating it until it’s all gone. God help you if you decide to make a double batch in hopes that you’ll have leftovers. It’s perfect served with corn or flour tortillas as a taco filling, or it would probably make an insanely good torta. But my favorite way to eat it is with some rice, pickled onions, queso fresco, a squeeze of lime, and some sprigs of cilantro.
You may be thinking, “I’ll never find achiote paste or banana leaves!” Well, I bet you that you can. Go on an adventure to a Latin or Asian market! Not only will you likely find these things, but I bet you’ll have a ton of fun checking out a new place to shop. Or, if you’re lucky like me, you just have to check out a different aisle in your regular grocery store. You might be surprised.
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Banana leaves (optional)
3-4 pounds pork shoulder
1 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
1/2 cup lime juice, juice of 4-5 limes
1 teaspoons salt
3-3.5 ounces of red (rojo) achiote paste
To garnish: pickled red onions*, queso fresco, cilantro, lime wedges
Mix the orange and lime juice with the achiote paste and salt in a blender until combined. Cut the pork into chunks of about 2 inches square, making sure not to trim away any of the fat. If there is a bone in your pork, keep it and let it marinate along with the rest of the pork.Put the pork in a non-reactive container, then pout in the marinade mixture. Mix well, cover and marinate for 6 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a large casserole with a double layer of heavy-duty foil, or a triple layer of regular foil – you want a good seal. If you can find them, line the dish with banana leaves. Pour in the pork and the marinade. Fold over banana leaves (if using) and foil. Make sure ou get a nice seal on the foil. Put the dish in the oven and bake for about 3 hours- it may take a little longer if you have closer to 4 pounds of pork.
When the pork is tender, take it out of the oven and open the foil. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl, then shred it with two forks. Pour the remaining sauce from the dish over the pork. Serve with tortillas or over rice.
*To make picked red onions, slice one red onion very thinly. In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup vinegar, 2 TB sugar, and 2 TB salt. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Add red onions and toss. Set aside for at least half an hour. Pickled red onions will keep well, and even get better, for several days in the fridge.