Sometimes the most beautiful foods taste boring, and sometimes the ugliest foods are the most delicious. (This is what I tell myself, at least, as I shove piles of Indian and Ethiopian foods into my mouth on a regular basis and religiously avoid all kale salads).
I’ll let you be the judge of my Cochinita Pibil Tacos’ beauty. While not artfully constructed with 10 types of garnishes or covered with cheese, there is something absolutely gorgeous to me about tendrils of juicing, dripping pork, topped with bright pink Yukatan onion pickle. This is rustic Mexican simplicity.
And it is so exceptionally tasty.
(Yes I have opted for homey deliciousness instead of superfluously cheesey this Cinco de Mayo week).
I think we need a little history, so bear with me.. (I’ll try to make it amusing at least).As I alluded to in my Yukatan onion fidge pickle post, I have recently become obsessed with Amorcito Corazon here in San Diego. It’s a nicer (and cleaner) than average taco shop that serves up the best of Mexico with high quality ingredients. Please don’t come here expecting exotic and unique tacos; that’s what the hipster restaurants are for. Come here expecting classic Mexican dishes done right. So this is where I first discovered cochinita pibil. And I was instantly in love.
The flavor profile is exceptionally unique and like nothing I had ever had. It has a sour yet spicy and savory profile; I immediately thought it just barely tasted of orange. Before your mouth starts puckering too hard, however, imagine the sour flavor complimented with sweet pork, sweet corn tortillas, and topped with a little sweet-sour crunch of the Yukatan onion pickle.
Besides the amazing and unique flavors, the texture is out of this world- as soon as I had my first bite I immediately began wondering how long they roasted the meat, because it was literally falling apart in my mouth. (And juicing all over the table, but what’s a little mess when there is such gastronomic enjoyment to be had..? #inappropriatefoodmottos).
So, of course, I began researching this amazing dish. As it turns out, Cochinita Pibil is a classic Mexican recipe from the Yukatan peninsula whose roots date back to the Mayans. Cochinita actually translates to “baby pig” in English, which probably means that the original recipe was for whole suckling pig marinated in the most delightful of all marinades and roasted to tender perfection.
However most Mexican families, I’m assuming, are making this using a part of the pig instead of the whole pig. My internet searches for cochinita pibil support this assumption and pork shoulder and pork loin appear to be the most common cuts used for this method. The long roasting time combined with the acidic marinade create the falling-apart-tender texture that would otherwise be difficult to achieve with these types of cuts.
The final fun fact about cochinita pibil is that the pork and marinade is wrapped in banana leaves before cooking. I’m trying to imagine wrapping a whole pig with banana leaves, and to be honest, am a little mystified. It must have been quite the celebration feast. Needless to say, I used parchment in lieu of banana leaves. (Maybe next time I’ll be a little more hardcore).
There are 2 unique ingredients in this recipe that you can’t do without: Bitter Orange Juice (also called Sevilla Orange Juice) and Achiote Paste. Please do not substitute these ingredients or you will end up with a recipe that will be markedly different. I’ve seen recipes that suggest ways of creating bitter orange juice from a combination of citrus juices, but I haven’t had a chance to test them to provide you a direct comparison.
I’ve included links to amazon for the specialty ingredients, but also know that you can most likely find them at a Mexican grocery store if you have access. Mexican oregano is nice as well if you can find it, but I will forgive you if you substitute regular oregano. My opinion on California red chili powder is similar- nice if you can find it, but OK to substitute.
Happy celebrating and hope you have fun with this one!
Cochinita Pibil Tacos
- 2 ½ lbs pork shoulder roast
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp whole allspice
- 3 tsp whole black peppercorn
- 2 tbsp achiote paste
- 1 teaspoon california red chili powder mild or medium
- 1 teaspoon mexican oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups bitter orange juice sevilla orange juice
- ½ cup white vinegar
- salt to taste
- In a food processor combine garlic, allspice, black peppercorns, achiote paste, chili powder, oregano, bay leaves, orange juice, vinegar, and salt.
- Process until all ingredients are pureed and garlic, allspice, and peppercorns have been ground fully.
- Place pork in a large ziplock bag or marinating dish and marinate at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Line a baking dish with 2 pieces of parchment, criss-crossed, with enough overhang to completely wrap the pork.
- Pour pork and marinating juices into the center of the parchment, fat side up.
- Gently wrap the pork so that all the liquid stays inside the parchment. (This mimics the traditional banana leaves that are used to wrap the pork during cooking).
- Cover the entire dish with tin foil; pierce with a knife a few times to create steam vents.
- Bake for 3 hours.
- Remove from oven, uncover, and remove pork from baking dish.
- Using 2 forks, shred the meat until it is the texture of very fine tendrils.
- Pour some of the cooking liquid over the shredded pork to it retrains it's moisture.
- Serve meat on corn tortillas and topped with Yukatan onion pickle.