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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cochinita Pibil (Slow Cooked Achioto Pork)

This recipe hails from a great book, Mexican Everyday, which is full of recipes so streamlined they can easily be fit into busy days. Conchinita Pibil is a dish from the Yucatan and to be truly authentic, it would need to be a whole pig, cooked in a pit in the ground. Using the banana leaves around a pork roast in a slow cooker makes it something American cooks are more likely to do, at least with some frequency. This pork never fails to please; it is highly flavorful without being spicy (hot). Everyone I've ever served it to can't get enough of it. The lovely aroma will fill your kitchen all the while it cooks which is an added pleasure.


Cochinita Pibil (Slow Cooked Achioto Pork)

Adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless
Serves 6-8


One available brand.

Achiote paste, or seasoning can be found in any Mexican market, usually in a small rectangular box. You can also make your own if you can't find it although you'll have to have annato seeds on hand, also available at the Mexican market. (Pre-mixed achiote paste is more convenient but if you buy a jar of annato seeds it will last nearly indefinitely and it might save you a trip to the store. As a note of interest, you've likely eaten annato since it is often used as a safe, red or orange food colorant.) You'll also need a small spice grinder, (I use a coffee grinder I picked up at a garage sale) or a blender.  See the recipe below.

Banana leaves can be found in  Mexican or Asian market, often frozen rather than fresh, at least here in western USA, but frozen is just as easy to use. Although this recipe can be made without them, I highly advise you to seek them out for they add a subtle but wonderful flavor.

I suppose technically it isn't necessary to use a bone-in roast but you will lose flavor. The pork will cook so long you will not have to worry about slicing around the bone, so there is little reason to skip it. 

One half 3.5-oz package of achiote seasoning (paste)
3/4 c fresh lime juice (bottled juice will inhibit pickling), divided
one half 1-pound package banana leaves
a 3-pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
1 large white onion, sliced about 1/4 in thick
1 large red onion, thinly sliced

Stir 1/4 c lime juice and 1/2 teas salt into a medium bowl. Slice the red onion thinly from pole to pole and place in bowl. Stir well. Set aside on counter and from time to time as the pork cooks give the onions a quick stir. They'll turn fuchsia in color and soften into pickles.

Place the achiote seasoning into a small bowl. Pour in 1/2 c lime juice and 1 1/2-2 teas salt, then use the back of a spoon to smash the paste into the lime juice until it is a smooth marinade (I've left a lump or two when I'm in a rush).

If you use banana leaves line your slow cooker with one leaf along the sides and bottom of the insert. The best way is to lay one 2-ft section along the length and then another section across, pushing them down into the bottom of the insert. Place a handful of the white onion slices on the banana leaves. Lay in the pork roast and pour the marinade over the top. Around the sides pour 1/2 c water. Scatter the remaining white onion slices on top of the roast. Fold the banana leaf flaps over the top of the roast. If the top isn't covered, take  another smaller section of leaf and lay it on top, tucking the edges into the slow cooker.

Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 6-7 hours until  the meat is falling off the bone.

When the pork is done, use tongs to pull the meat out of the slow cooker into a serving dish, discarding the bone. It will naturally break up so you won't really need to do additional shredding. Cover and keep warm. Skim any excess fat off the top of the brothy marinade in the slow cooker and decant it into a shallow sauce pan and reduce the liquid by boiling it until it is more like a gravy than a broth. Taste this sauce and add salt if needed.

Place on serving plates; top with some of the sauce and the pickled onions. Serve with hot tortillas and a roasted chile salsa if you like. A good rice such as Moros y Cristianos (white rice with black beans) is a good side dish for this meal. For a small group, I like to serve this with fried plantains, but it complicates last minute preparations. Tasty, though, for sure.

Homemade Achiote Paste:

also from Rick Bayless

2 T annato seeds
2 teas allspice
1 teas black peppercorns
1 1/2 teas dried oregano, preferably Mexican (also available in a Mexican market)
3 T cider vinegar
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 generous teas salt
Water as needed

In the spice grinder, pulverize the annato as finely as possible and dump into a small bowl. Pulverize the allspice and peppercorns together along with the oregano and add to the annato. Mince the garlic and add to the mixture along with the salt. Add the vinegar and stir. It won't really hold together so add a tablespoon or so of water until the mixture is a thick paste. Use the entire mixture for this recipe; however, if you are using it for another application and have leftovers, they may be refrigerated in the fridge for several months, according to the book Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.


  1. I have tried this and it is soooo good. We need to make it ourselves though.