A Sunday Ritual, Featured

Cochinita Pibil

The first time I had Cochinita Pibil was in a west side Chicago neighborhood restaurant called Xni-pec, and I fell in love with it. A whole pork shoulder wrapped in a banana leaf and braised, then served in a soft corn tortilla with a generous spoon of your preferred salsa, it epitomizes everything I love about Mexican food. It is a beautiful balance of rich, tender meat, fat, bright citrus, and spice.

In thinking about what I might do for my second “Sunday Ritual” post, I let the weird weather we’ve been having dictate my decision. In March we had a long stretch of some summer-like weather, but in the past few days we’ve gone back to chilly, damp, and blustery. It definitely feels like we’re experiencing fall rather than spring. So instead of dreaming about early summer strawberries or light tomato salads, my mind is back in roasting and braising mode. Luckily I have a few pages photocopied from the braising bible, All About Braising, by Molly Stevens. Paging through my recipes binder, I found one for Cochinita Pibil I had saved! Oh Em Gee. It sounded perfect for a Sunday roast, and it didn’t sound very complicated, aside from a few steps I had never done before. Hell yes I was up for the challenge!

Luckily I live very close to a large Mexican supermarket, so I went and got some specialty ingredients (which you can also get at a Whole Foods or a more gourmet market if you don’t have a Latin market near you). I went home, prepped the meat, stuck it in the oven, and 6 hours later I had Cochinita Pibil. I mean, its a whole roasted shoulder, so I’ll have Cochinita Pibil for days (weeks, possibly a month). Bring it on!

Banana Leaves for Cochinita Pibil

P.S. This recipe requires some forethought as you need to marinate the meat overnight. Of course, I did not anticipate this, and I only marinated for 2 hours. It turned out really delicious, so if you do this the proper way, you will probably have something even more mind blowing.

All set

Cochinita Pibil

adapted from Molly Steven’s All About Braising

The Spice Paste:
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons of ground cumin
1 Tablespoon of oregano
2 dried red chiles, crushed or 1 ½ teapsoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons achiote paste (optional)
2-3 tablespoons cider vinegar

The Braise:
2-3 large fresh or thawed frozen banana leaves, rinsed and dried
One 7-9 lb bone in Boston butt or picnic shoulder, skin on or off

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the spice paste and set aside.
  2. With a pair of scissors, trim off the fibrous center rib that usually runs down the length of one side of the leaves and save it to tie the roast (you can also use kitchen twine. I used both.). Sear the banana leaves by passing it 2” above a burner flame on high. This makes the leaves more pliable. Set aside.
  3. If you bought a skin on roast, score a cross hatch pattern on the skin to reveal the fat underneath. Rub all over with spice paste.
  4. To wrap the pork with the banana leaves, lift the meat and place on one leaf and wrap it around several times. Lift the wrapped pork and place it on another banana leaf and wrap the meat perpendicular to the way you wrapped it the first time. Tie securely with saved leaf rib or kitchen twine. Set on tray and marinate in fridge from 12-24 hours.
  5. Heat your oven to 300 degrees F. Let the pork sit at room temp while you wait for your oven to heat up. Place a little steamer rack (or if you don’t have one, an upside down plate would work too) at the bottom of a large dutch oven. If you have a roasting pan with a rack, that would also work. Fill the bottom with a couple of inches of water and place the banana leaf wrapped pork on top of the rack and cover tightly with lid or foil. Place in oven.
  6. After 3 hours, turn the pork over and then roast for another 3 hours.
  7. When the Cochinita Pibil is ready, shred it with two forks and serve with tortillas, salsas, onions, cilantro, wedges of lime. I made a quick red onion pickle . I also roasted some jalapeños just over a burner on my stove until they were blistered and black — just remember to de-rib and de-seed them if you don’t want them so spicey.

Have some banana leaves left over? Here are some other things you can make with them.

cochinita pibil

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “A Sunday Ritual” by guest blogger Debbie Carlos.


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