Mexico City will always have a very special place in my heart. In fact a year and a half after leaving Mexico, both C and I still miss the country, the life we had, and our friends dearly. The older more travel weary Foreign Service Officers say that your first post is always your favourite, and I think there is an element of truth to that.
Our life in Mexico had so many firsts and life milestones. Not only was it the first time C and I lived in the same country, it was also the first time we lived together! So many experiences go hand in hand with that such as discovering ourselves and each other, as well as discovering the country we were living in. It was also during this time, that we got engaged, adopted our beloved Mexican street cats and got married. Ultimately Mexico was where our family started.
Not surprisingly, it was in my time in Mexico that I fell deeply in love with Mexican food. Now, let’s be clear here, it wasn’t love at first sight – in fact I was pretty apathetic towards Mexican food when I first arrived. However, over time my attitude gradually began to change. The more I was exposed to it, the more I learnt about the varieties, the more I understood the sometimes subtle differences and often complex flavours – my apathy gradually grew into a strong love.
One of my favourite dishes that I discovered in Mexico was Cochinita Pibil – a wonderfully tangy, pulled pork dish that originates from the Yucatan Peninsula. And as luck would have it, our apartment in Polanco, was a 2 minute walk from Turix, one of the best Cochinita Pibil places in town (or so they say)!
Traditionally Cochinita Pibil was cooked underground with hot stones (similar to how the Andeans in Peru make their Pachamanka – See here). In fact ‘pibil’ means ‘under the ground’ in Mayan and like the Peruvian Pachamanka, the Cochinita Pibil is a dish that combines ancient ways of preparing food, with European influences.
So in a nostalgic moment last week – I decided that I was going to bring a bit of Mexico to Brazil by making Cochinita Pibil. There are lots of recipes on the internet on how to make this dish, but after trawling through at least a dozen websites, none seemed to be the ONE –they were either too complex or just too Americanized. So instead I took all the elements I liked from each recipes I found, and made my own version. I have to say, I am incredibly happy with the outcome.
The ingredient list may be long, but it is pretty straight forward and easy! There is only one essential ingredient which cannot be substituted and that is achiote paste.
For those of you who don’t know what achiote paste is (I had NO idea until I started researching this recipe!), it is a paste made up of various spices but primarily of ground achiote (also called annatto), which are seeds derived from the achiote tree that is native to central and south America. Those of you who are in the U.S will have no problems getting a hold of achiote paste from your Hispanic grocers, but the rest of you may have a little harder time finding it. However you can either buy it online and it looks like this:
Or, if you manage to get hold of some achiote/annatto seeds, you can make the achiote paste from scratch, which is what I did. I made the paste following the recipe from The Spice House website, and was pleased with the results (Link to achiote paste) However as it is so much work to do, I would double the quantities that they mention and store the remainder for another time.
As mentioned the cooking process is pretty straight forward – however it takes time. You need at least 12 hours to marinade the pork, and then allow 8 hours for the pork to cook in the slow cooker – after all we are trying to recreate an underground oven – so plan ahead!
- 5 – 2 kg of boneless pork shoulder (Boston Butt, to the Americans)
For the Marinade
- 80g of achiote paste
- 12 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled & coarsely chopped
- 2 tblsp dried Mexican oregano (Italian will work well too)
- 1 tsp cumin seed (ground cumin also works)
- 2 tablsp Worcestershire sauce
- Juice of 2 limes
- Juice of 1 grapefruit (or a bitter orange)
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tblsp salt
For the cooking process
- 1 onion, cut in thick slices
- 1 cup water
- Slow cooker (crock pot)
First, with a sharp knife pierce the pork shoulder repeatedly in all side – this will allow the marinade to have more surface area to enter. Place the pork in a large ziplock bag or large glass bowl.
Then, in a small skillet dry roast the oregano and cumin seeds, shaking the pan repeatedly to prevent burning. Once the colour has deepened and there are slight wisps of smoke forming, remove from heat.
Place the toasted cumin and oregano in a blender, along with all the other ingredients for the marinade. Blitz for a few seconds, until you have an almost smooth bright red liquid consistency. Note if you are using store bought achiote paste, make sure you crumble it into the blender.
Pour the marinade into the ziplock bag with the pork. Message the marinade and the pork together thoroughly. Leave to marinade over night – or at least for 8 hours. From time to time message the pork and turn it over.
Place the thick cut onions at the bottom of your slow cooker – this will act as a form of bed for your pork.
Then place the pork on top of the onions and pour all the marinade juices on top of the pork
Add a cup of water around the pork (this ensures the pork will not dry out)
Place the lid on the slow cooker, turn it on to Low and put the timer on for 8 hours – and then go to bed! :)
8 Hours Late
The pork at this point should be incredibly tender and start to collapse on itself once touched. With two fork, start pulling the pork to thin shreds and continue to mix it in with the juices. Then let the pork stand in the juices until you are ready to serve.
The most traditional way to eat cochinita pibil is with warm corn tortillas. The combination of the pibil and the corn flavour is unbeatable. However in reality you can eat it anyway you would like. Put it in a bun, over rice, straight from the pot – you get the idea :)
If you are eating LCHF like us, this goes wonderfully with cauliflower rice, or use a crisp lettuce leaf as your tortillas or even over steamed broccoli – delicious! :)