COCHINITA PIBIL

taco de cochinita pibil

taco de cochinita pibil

Earlier this summer, I found myself searching every ethnic food aisle and every Mexican grocery store in Chicago for Chata-brand canned Cochinita Pibil. Having had it before, I knew it wasn’t as good as the real thing but I was yearning for that delicious achiote-flavored pork. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found. In a moment of desperation, I even searched the internet to see if I could order it from somewhere—finding out I was going to have to pay nearly $10 for a 14-ounce can, plus shipping.

All I could think about was the last time I’d eaten cochinita pibil in Mexico. After a big Christmas celebration with our extended family in Mexico City, we took a trip to Cuernavaca to ring in the new year with my husband’s parents and sister. We spent our vacation playing Mexico City Monopoly (with properties like Xochimilco and Chapultepec instead of Park Place and Broadway) and endless hours of domino. Laughter and shouts of “tramposo!” could be heard any time it was suspected that José was cheating…which was often, because he always likes to win.

On our way back to Mexico City, we stopped at a Yucatecan restaurant called El Faisán, where my suegros often visit after spending a weekend with friends in Cuernavaca. It was the first time both José and I had been there.

I know if El Faisán wasn’t as authentic as anything you’d eat in Mérida, my family wouldn’t eat there. They suggested I try the queso relleno which had a picadillo-style mixture incorporated into the cheese; it’s a favorite of one of our tias. My cuñada ordered sopa de lima and shared it with me. But what pleased my palate the most was an order of three little tacos de cochinita pibil. In fact, we ended up asking for three orders, and there was a mad scramble to get more than one little taco each. Paired with a tall, ice-cold glass of horchata to drink (another one of my favorite things), I was in little piggy heaven.

José was skeptical when I ambitiously said I was going to make cochinita. “In a regular oven?” he said, “it’s gonna be yucky.” In the Mayan language, “pib” means an underground pit for cooking, and that’s the traditional way to make cochinita pibil. Obviously that would be difficult to accomplish living on the sixth floor of a condo building in downtown Chicago, where we have no backyard. But when all was said and done and he tasted his first little taco, he gave me his standard stamp of approval—two thumbs up—and his blessing to make it again.

chile habanero

chile habanero

RECETA:

SALSA DE HABANERO Y CEBOLLA

  • 5 habanero peppers, roasted and finely chopped
  • Juice of  ½ an orange
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp white vinegar

Roast habaneros in a skillet on medium heat until they start to get a few dark spots. Cut top off the pepper and discard stem. Finely dice the habaneros.

Mix the diced habaneros with the chopped onion in a bowl (or directly in the container you intend to store the salsa in, preferably in a glass jar). Pour juices over the habaneros and onions and then add the vinegar. Toss lightly to moisten and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Keeps refrigerated for about 5 days.

COCHINITA PIBIL

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder, cut into large stew-sized chunks
  • 2 large hojas de platano (banana leaves; if you can’t find them fresh, you can usually find them in the freezer section with other ethnic foods. My grocery store carries Goya brand frozen banana leaves)
  • A roasting pan
  • Aluminum foil, preferably heavy duty

Marinade:

  • 100 grams achiote paste (one box, also called annato seed paste)
  • 1 ½ cups fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • A big pinch of salt
  • A little freshly ground pepper if desired
limones, achiote 7 naranjas

limones, achiote y naranjas

Cut achiote paste (comes in a block) into small chunks. Put into food processor with orange and lime juices to break up the paste and fully incorporate into the juice. Add the garlic, salt & pepper to the juice.

Pour into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and add the chunks of pork. Remove air and seal the bag. Place the sealed bag in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight (about 12 hours).

In the morning, remove the meat from the juice and reserve the juice. You can put the meat and the juice back into the refrigerator until you’re ready to start cooking.

To prepare the banana leaves, turn your stove burners on low heat and place the leaves over the flames. You need to heat the leaves enough so they are pliable, but you don’t want them to cook and turn brown. The leaves will turn a brighter green when they’re heated through.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

cochinita pibil before cooking

cochinita pibil being wrapped in banana leaves before cooking

In a roasting pan, place the banana leaves one over the other like a cross. Transfer the meat directly into the pan on top of the banana leaves. Pour about half of the reserved juice over the meat—the juice will help steam the meat so it becomes very tender. Gently fold the banana leaves over the meat, being careful not to rip them but so that the meat is completely enclosed within the banana leaves. Cover the roasting pan tightly with two pieces of foil. It’s important that steam won’t escape, so make sure the foil is really secure.

Place on the middle rack of the oven, once it reaches 325 degrees. Cook for about 2 ½ hours, or until meat is tender enough to shred gently with a fork.

Shred all the meat.

The meat can be served as a main dish itself, with side dishes such as fried plantains, black beans or rice, and as tacos or on panuchos (smaller, fried tortillas, with refried black beans in the middle). If you’re going to make them as tacos, spread refried black beans on the tortilla and then place the meat on top of the beans. Garnish with salsa de habanero y cebolla.

Yields 4 servings (3 tacos each).

SALSA VERDE (Cooked and Raw)

Tomatillos GAL

tomatillos milperos

Salsas are the lifeblood of just about every Mexican dish. They can be cooked or raw, made in the blender or in a molcajete. Salsa can make or break any dish, add a special dimension of flavor or even make a dish edible (you wouldn’t eat chicharrón without cooking it in salsa to soften the dried meat).

The simple combination of tomatoes (jitomate or tomatillos/red or green), chiles (of any variety) and other ingredients like onion, garlic and spices is essential to many traditional dishes in Mexican cuisine. Salsa verde is certainly a staple in my house, whether it’s cooked and used for guisados like chicharrón en salsa verde, or raw salsa used for garnishing tacos.

You’ll notice this same cooked salsa recipe will be used over and over again in a number of dishes you’ll read about here and I’ll reference back to it often and sometimes modify it (for example, when making chilaquiles, I substitute fresh chicken stock in place of water).

In Mexico, we’ve eaten similar recipes to mine at many of our favorite restaurants, though some places use epazote in their cooked salsa (an ingredient I don’t use). In Chicago, we haven’t found a place that makes salsa verde the way we like it—or anywhere near it, really. Because of this, we sometimes order take out from our favorite Mexican restaurants and bring it home to eat it with our own homemade salsa.

Chile Serrano WEB

chiles serranos

 

salsa cocida para chicharrón en salsa verde

salsa cocida para chicharrón en salsa verde

RECETA:

SALSA VERDE COCIDA

  • A little over 1 pound of small (milpero) tomatillos, dehusked & thoroughly washed
  • 3-6 serrano chiles (depending how spicy you like it; start with less and add them to increase heat), stems cut off
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 slices of white onion
  • A big pinch of Kosher salt

First, dehusk and wash the tomatillos well. You’ll notice they’re sticky, which is a sign of ripeness, and probably slightly dirty under the husk. Sometimes I find that warm water isn’t enough, and I use a few drops of dish soap diluted in a bowl of warm water. Then I put the dehusked tomatillos in the bowl and gently rub each one in the slightly soapy water to remove the dirt and sap. Rinse them well in cool water to remove any soap residue.

Fill a pot with water (large enough to fit all the tomatillos) and bring to a boil. Put the tomatillos in and cook in the boiling water until the tomatillo flesh begins to get transparent. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatillos to a blender. Add the onion, garlic and salt. Cut the stems off the serrano chiles and cut each chile into a few pieces so they’re easily chopped in the blender. Start by adding 2 chiles to the blender with about ¾ of a cup of water and blend on high (liquify or puree) until smooth and the chiles and tomatillos are completely incorporated. Taste the salsa to see if it’s too hot; if it needs more chile, add them one at a time, blending & tasting the result until you are happy with the level of heat from the chiles. If it seems the salsa is not quite liquid enough, add another ¼ cup of water. The salsa will reduce slightly when cooked.

Pour blender contents into a saucepan and heat over medium flame until the salsa boils, occasionally stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Stores well for about 10 days.

  • Tip: for extra flavor with salsa verde cocida, you can also add 2 strips of chicharrón (with meat still attached) to season the salsa. You should add the chicharrón during the end stage when you cook the salsa until it boils for a few minutes, then remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature before storing to infuse the chicharrón flavor. This flavor infusion method only works with the cooked salsa.

 

salsa cruda con carnitas

salsa cruda con carnitas

RECETA:

SALSA VERDE CRUDA

Repeat the same cleaning method for the tomatillos as above, and using same ingredients.

Instead of cooking the tomatillos and boiling the salsa after blending, put the raw tomatillos directly into the blender with all other ingredients. Add the chiles to taste, starting with 2 and adding more if necessary. If it’s too dry, add a few tablespoons of water to the ingredients and blend well until smooth. Stores in an airtight refrigerated container for up to 3 days.

  • What do you do differently in making your salsas verdes or where is your favorite place to eat a dish that includes salsa verde?
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