Cochinita Pibil – The Tradition
Traditional Yucatán-style shredded pork tacos (Cochinita Pibil) are a staple of the Yucatán. At the same time, this recipe is not totally authentic since I don’t have access to the preferred hairless Mexican pork (cerdo pelón) or the Yucatán smoking woods Catzin, Habin, or Kitinche. The pork is traditionally marinated in a mixture of ground annatto seeds, sour orange (Badia Naranja Agria, Chef Merito, or La Lechonera or Seville orange), lime, and other seasonings overnight. After marinating the pork and the marinade is wrapped in banana leaves and placed into a container with a lid. The container is then out into an underground bbq pit over wood coals and buried. The result, of all this care, is a treasure of Yucatán. An exquisite taco that is a marvel of Mexico layered with rich flavors and tendered beyond description. Traditionally served with thinly sliced pickled red onion and simple habanero salsa.
How To Make Cochinita Pibil At Home
I’m adding the pre-marinated pork shoulder to a smoker for 3 hours at (250°F or 120°C) to compensate for the pit smoking. (SAVE the marinade! The marinade becomes the sauce in the end. The recipe requires the marinade in the following step.) This really bumps up the flavor profile that I think many other versions of this recipe are missing. I used cherry wood when I worked out this recipe, but any mild smoking fruitwood or Texas Post Oak will work great.
Another key ingredient is sour oranges(Naranja Agria/Seville) and annatto seeds. Do not use regular orange juice. Regular orange juice is too sweet and will throw off the flavor. If you can’t find annatto seeds, use a store-bought paste such as El Yucateco, El Mexicano, or La Perla del Mayab.
The third key ingredient is banana leaves. Banana leaves are available in any well-stocked Latin or Asian market. As always, there are links throughout this post or on the Shop Ingredients page.
The process may seem daunting to some. Remember all we are doing:
- Make the marinade and marinate the pork for 24hrs.
- Smoke the marinated pork for 3 hours and then wrap the pork in banana leaves and roast in the oven for 3 hours more.
- Make the habanero salsa, and pickle some red onions.
- Eat the Cochinita Pibil and invite some friends, be a hero!
Beverage Recommendations: Dos Equis Beer Amber, Pacifico, ChupaCabra, or Bohemia beer. Tequilas: Clase Azul Reposado, Esperanto Seleccion Tequila Extra Añejo, or Don Julio 1942
Yucatán-Style Smoked and Shredded Pork Tacos (Cochinita Pibil)
- wood smoker
- chef knife
- cutting board
- molcajete or food processor
- roasting pan or large dutch oven with lid
- meat thermometer
- large pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid
- 5 tbsp achiote seeds, or store-bought like El Yucateco See Shop Ingredients page
- 1½ cup orange, sour/bitter, juice fresh-squeezed or store-bought like Badia Naranja Agria See Shop Ingredients page/Seville oranges work too
- 1 cup vinegar, white
- ½ cup lime, juiced preferably Mexican or Key lime
- 2 oz tequila, very best quality you can find (optional) I prefer Clase Azul Reposado, Esperanto Seleccion Tequila Extra Añejo, or Don Julio 1942
- ⅓ cup garlic, peeled and roughly chopped About 14 cloves of garlic
- 1½ tbsp pepper, black
- 1½ tbsp oregano, dry, preferably Mexican
- 1½ tbsp allspice, ground
- 1 tbsp cinnamon, ground
- 1½ tsp salt, kosher
- 1¼ tsp cumin, ground or whole toasted, and ground
- ½ tsp clove, ground
- 1 whole pork shoulder, preferably bone-in, but boneless will work as well
- 1 lb banana leaves usually come frozen in Latin and Asian markets with tough ribs removed See Shop Ingredients page
Quick Pickled Red Onion-Garnish
- 3 whole onion, red peeled, cored, and sliced very thin julienne style
- 1 cup orange, sour juice
- 2 tbsp vinegar, white, or apple
- 2 tbsp lime, juice
- 2 tsp salt
Quick Traditional Habanero Salsa
- 12 medium chile, habanero, orange (very hot), or green (hot)
- ½ medium onion, white or yellow, peeled and cored
- 5-6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- ½ cup vinegar, white, or apple cider
- ¼ cup orange, sour juice
- 2 tbsp lime, juice
- 2 tsp salt, kosher
- ¼ tsp sugar (optional)
- Remove the pork shoulder/butt from its packaging. Dry off the pork shoulder with paper towels and place into a 1-gallon ziplock bag—Reserve for the marinade.
- Measure out the seasonings and place them into a blender.
- Squeeze the sour oranges and limes (if available); otherwise, use store-bought juice. Add this to the seasonings in the blender and start on low and gradually turn up the power to medium-low. All the blenders to operate for at leasta1 a minute to ensure everything is blended well. Test the marinade using a spoon to see if it is a smooth liquid.
- Pour the marinade over the pork shoulder and carefully seal the ziplock bag, trying to get as much air out of the bag as possible. Refrigerate the pork shoulder overnight (8-12 hours), turning once or twice while in the refrigerator. The pork shoulder can remain in the marinade for 24 hours, but overnight is sufficient time for the flavors to bloom.
- Preheat the smoker to (250°F or 120°C). Add enough fuel to last 3 hours. (For more information on smoking, see the Texas Style Brisket post in this blog.) I used cherry wood for this smoke which turned out great. However, any good-quality fruitwood will work. You are looking for mild-flavored smoking wood. Texas Post Oak is another option.
- Remove the pork shoulder from the marinade and place it on a cooling rack to warm up to room temperature (about 20 minutes). SAVE the Marinade!!! Once the smoker's temperature has settled to a constant (250°F or 120°C), add the pork shoulder to the center of the smoker. Smoke the pork shoulder for 3 hours. Once the 3-hour smoking process is over, move the pork shoulder back inside to wrap in the banana leaves.
The Banana Leaf Roast
- Preheat the oven to (350°F or 175°C). Make sure to arrange the shelving to accommodate a large pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid.
- While the pork shoulder is smoking, prepare the banana leaves first by giving them a good wash in the sink. Then using a knife, remove the woody strip on the edge of the banana leaf. Cutting this part off will aid in making the banana leaves easier to fold.
- Using a large pot or Dutch oven, line the pot with the cleaned banana leaves by overlapping them slightly. Leave one or two banana leaves extra long so they can be wrapped around the top of the pork shoulder.
- When the pork shoulder is done smoking, please remove it from the smoker and place it into the center of the banana leaves and pour the remaining marinade back on top of the pork shoulder. Fold the longer banana leaves over the top of the pork shoulder and tuck the excess down around the sides to completely cover the pork shoulder. Place a heavy lid on top or cover tightly with aluminum foil. Cook the pork shoulder for 3 hours or until the pork has reached the internal temperature of (205°-209°F or 96°-98°C).
- Take the pork shoulder out of the oven and set it on a safe surface to allow it to rest. Remove the lid and allow to rest until (150°F or 65°C) before attempting to pull apart.
- Once the pork shoulder has rested, remove it from the pot and banana leaves and set it on a clean sheet pan. Meanwhile, remove all the banana leaves from the pot and discard them. SAVE the Sauce. During the cooking process, the marinade has combined with the pork to become a delicious sauce. Pour off this sauce and save it to a container.
Traditional Quick Pickled Onions
- Peel, core, and halve each red onion. Sliced each onion half as thinly (julienned) as you can.
- Using a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the thinly sliced onions and the rest of the ingredients. Toss and store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate until needed.
Traditional Quick Habanero Salsa
- This salsa is spicy hot! There is a milder version of this salsa in this blog. See Habanero Salsa Norte Americano Style.)
- Preheat a broiler, meanwhile prep the chilies and other ingredients for roasting.
- Cut the stems off the habaneros, slice the chilies in half, and lay inside cut down on a tray lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Add the whole garlic cloves with their skins still on, next to the half of white onion, and place under the broiler to blister briefly.
- Once the chilies, onions, and garlic cloves are blistered, add them to a food processor or blender. (Remember to remove the skins from the roasted garlic cloves first!) Add the remaining ingredients and process by pulsing until you've reached a slightly smooth consistency. Reserve. (You can do this the day before and allow it to sit overnight in the refrigerator with a tight-fitting lid.)
To Serve Cochinita Pibil Tacos
- Traditionally corn tortillas are used to make this taco, but if you are a bigger fan of flour tortillas, then go for it. However, each tortilla will need to be heated before stuffing with the meat. To do this, add a small amount of oil to an iron or non-stick skillet and reheat each tortilla. Cook until they take on a slightly browner edge to them.
- Shred the pork shoulder using your hands or a couple of forks. Toss with the reserved sauce and cook until just piping hot. Place immediately on the freshly cooked tortillas and serve with the habanero salsa and pickled red onions.