Holiday recipes (and video how-to): Cochinita pibil

Video by: Ignacio Torres

A classic Mexican Christmas dish, cochinita pibil is one of the Yucatan’s most famous dishes. It is a recipe that dates back to Mayan times and, like many dishes from the region, it combines Mexican culinary tradition with that off the nearby Caribbean islands. Which is one reason the marinade relies heavily on the very same naranja agria (or bitter orange) that’s ever-present in Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisine;  the meat is also wrapped in banana leaves, a practice popular on tropical islands.

Today’s recipe comes to via two  great chefs: Sue Torres, of New York City’s critically acclaimed Sueños restaurant, and  Zarela Martinez, cookbook author, mother of TV chef Aaron Sanchez and former owner one of Manhattan’s most beloved Mexican restaurants, Zarela. In other words, this is a pibil with pedigree. Buen provecho!

Cochinita Pibil, one of Mexico's classic Christmas dishes. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Cochinita Pibil, one of Mexico’s classic Christmas dishes. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Cochinita pibil

1 cup annatto seeds

10 large garlic cloves

1/3 cup Mexican oregano

5 T whole black peppercorns

4 teaspoons cumin

4 teaspoons coriander seeds

10 whole allspice

1 cup orange juice

1 cup lime juice

6 lb boneless pork butt, slightly trimmed, cut into 2-inch chunks, generously salted

6 or 7, 12-inch pieces of  banana leaves

Pickled red onion, for garnish (recipe follows)

1. Make the marinade: Combine first 9 ingredients in the container of a blender. Process with on/off motion until thoroughly pureed. It may be necessary to add more orange and lime juice to facilitate blending.

2. In a large freezer bag, place the pork chunks and pour the marinade over. Seal with bag tightly and toss the pork in the bag in order to distribute the marinade evenly. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24.

3. Preheat an oven to 300. Line a large baking dish with several banana leaves, allowing them to fold over the edges. Pour the pork over the banana leaves and evenly distribute throughout the pan. Top with more banana leaves. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven for at least 4 hours, or until fork tender. Serve over white rice, tortillas or on a folded banana leaf and garnish with pickled red onions. Serves 6 to 8.

Pickled red onion garnish

1/4 cup olive oil

8 whole garlic cloves

1 large sprig rosemary

1 large sprig thyme

2 bay leaves

1 T black peppercorns

2 medium red onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

Salt to taste

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

In medium skillet or saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot but not quite smoking. Add garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns. Stir to combine and saute for 1 minute. Add sliced onions. Saute for 2 minutes. Season with salt to taste; stir in vinegar. Bring to a rapid boil and remove from heat at once. Onions should still be slightly crunchy. Can be stored tightly covered in refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes about 2 cups.

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