Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil

Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil
I've had a continual craving for pibil--the classic southern Mexican pork (cochinita) or chicken (pollo) dish of braised meat wrapped in banana leaf--ever since I was introduced to the chicken variety in a town outside of Chichen Itza, Yucatán, two Novembers ago.

There's a satisfactory version on the menu at Taco Mesa, and Gustavo says Conde Cakes in SanTana carries Yucatecan cuisine, but I've been cooking a variety of Mexican dishes at home lately and wanted to end the run on a high note. It's a 27-hour wait from start to finish, and you'll be left with orange, achiote-stained hands, but making the dish yourself leaves you with a happy belly and a true appreciation for this classic Mexican dish.

Pibil revolves around three essential ingredients: achiote (annatto seed), bitter orange juice and banana leaves. If you want to be hardcore about it, you'd bury a whole suckling pig and cook it in the pit. Yeah, pass. I'm not digging a hole or burying an animal in the yard. The HOA would likely frown upon that.

Sub in a pork butt (shoulder) and use a Dutch oven in lieu of said pit. The majority of the recipes for cochinita pibil online are more simple than intricate, but if you're going to take the time to make the dish, you should aim for the most developed flavor possible. Gustavo and Dave will undoubtedly have some profanity-laced resistance to what's coming next, but the most complete marinade I could find was from Rick Bayless' cochinita pibil recipe

Only, his recipe serves 12 to 15 people, which is a bit frustrating because nobody cooks for that many people on a daily basis. Minor criticism and calculations aside, the only bonus of having the recipe for such a large quantity is you'll have enough seasoning (and possibly banana leaf) leftover to make pollo pibil sometime in the future. 

For the home cook, the best technique is to adapt Bayless' spice rub and some cooking techniques with the smaller-scale quantities on this cochinita pibil recipe from Simply Recipes.

Here's how it's done: 
Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil

Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil

When it's time to cook, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. While the oven is heating up, line a Dutch oven with banana leaf. I was able to find a 1-lb. package at Tula Market in Lake Forest. They also make fresh tortillas, so it's a win-win if you're on the hunt for pibil and plan to make tacos.

Bayless wraps his in banana leaf and cooks it on a smoky grill for several hours, but just like I ain't diggin' a pit, I'm also not smoking this thing on the patio. You can replicate some of that flavor by using smoked salt, which you can buy or make at home

Just make sure you salt the pork at this point before you continue, smoked salt or plain ol' kosher.

Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil

Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil

Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil

Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil

The meat will fall apart with little effort using tongs or two forks. It's now ready for a variety of uses.

Yucatecan Clasico: Homemade Cochinita Pibil

I'm partial to cochinita pibil tacos, including mashed black beans, mashed avocado (seasoned with lime juice and salt), cotija cheese and pickled red onion (recipe). Another way to serve the pork is with 1/2 cup of steamed rice (seasoned with fresh lime juice, salt and chopped cilantro) and whole black beans (recipe).

Because you'll likely have extra banana leaf, you'd be smart to pick up a larger hunk of pork butt at the store and freeze portions of both. With a handful of Hawaiian sea salt and liquid smoke, this technique will also create some killer kalua pork!

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