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.
Wow, this sounds absolutely amazing, I’ve made pulled pork before, but never in a similar marinade; I know I would love this!
I love bitter oranges, unfortunately, they are not easy to come by, and even then, shops here in France only sell them around February-March, so I’ll have to wait until next year before making these (I use bitter oranges in various Middle-Eastern recipes, and if I can’t find them, I use a mixture of sweet orange and lemon or lime, that could always be an alternative in this dish I am sure, even if the taste would be different).
Great inspiration, thank you for sharing!
Oh man, yeah I haven’t actually ever seen a bitter orange. I didn’t know what it was at all until I started looking for specialty Mexican ingredients and it seems fairly common if you have access to a Mexican market (which would probably be difficult in France I would assume..?) I know you would love this one! Hope you get a chance to make it come spring-time 🙂
I spent some time in the Yucatan this past January and also fell in love with Pibil! I ate chicken pibil and brought home a bunch of achiote paste from the local market to make it at home! It’s so delicious! It is hard to find the bitter oranges, but a mix of grapefruit and orange juice works well.
That is so cool!! Isn’t pibil just totally addictive? It wasn’t an acquired taste for me.. it was just like BAM I can’t believe I’ve been missing this my whole life. P.s. thanks for the tips on how to get by without bitter orange. I’m sure people who don’t want to buy the specialty juice will find that very useful 🙂
I’m still fixated on these pickled onions. Thanks for the advice on not substituting some of the ingredients. It makes a difference knowing that ?
OH man those onions are absolutely essential as part of the taco. It just wouldn’t be right without them 🙂
Interesting post today Sarah! Thanks for sharing all that info! I love learning new thing about foods from places I’ve never been! These sound incredibly delicious! I can just imagine that meat falling apart and being so tender after marinating overnight and with three hours of roasting in the oven. On my list!
Thanks Mary Ann! What can I say- I’m a nerd who loves food so I like to get down and dirty with the research about unique foods. Hope you get a chance to try it!
I think they look beautiful and seriously delicious! I’m sad that Mexican ingredients are woefully absent here in Canada, at least in my part of it, so little chance I might find those ingredients. But that won’t stop me from eating them vicariously through my computer screen 🙂
Noooo that makes me sad too. I can’t imagine doing without all the international grocery stores I shop at on a regular basis… I have to admit I’m pretty spoiled here. But the good news is that you can probably get all of the Mexican ingredients online if you are really committed. 🙂
Ah, now I see what that lovely pickled onion was for!! This is mouthwatering for sure!! 🙂
Haha, yes indeed! 🙂
I can really relate – sometimes the ugliest foods are the most delicious -especially in the taco world! These tacos sound amazing and I love that they use the pickled onions you made!