Updated: Apr 25, 2021
There are 1000's of types of tacos all across Mexico, but cochinita pibil always ranks at the top. The name derives from both Mayan and Spanish languages and literally means "suckling pig cooked in the earth". A detailed history of this dish here.
Originating in the Yucatan Peninsula, this slow cooked pork dish is as simple as it gets, bitter orange juice, annatto and a few herbs. The process of cooking it is however extremely complex, wrapped in banana leaves and buried and cooked underground, this dish is at the peak of culinary expertise and commitment.
My version is slightly less involved. Since I cannot get bitter oranges here, I used !/2 orange and 1/2 grapefruit juice. I did not dig a hole in my backyard, I slow braised this in my oven wrapped in banana leaves. The original recipe is for tamales, however, I did not want to put in the additional three steps, so I served them as tacos. Remember, this recipe is only a small section about 1/5th of the original recipe. The genius of Enrique Olvera.
I also insist on making my own homemade onion pickles. Most traditional recipes call for white vinegar, I find them harsh, so I substitute apple cider vinegar for a softer pickling liquid, the difference is amazing.
This recipe is from the master of Mexican cuisine, Enrique Olvera. I was fortunate enough to enjoy dinner at Pujol Restaurant in Mexico City, then ranked 13th in the world. It has always been one of the best dining experiences in my life from the food to the service and ambiance. I had tocome back and get his cookbook. This book is one for advanced chefs with very few approachable recipes, mainly because of the chef's fanatical use of unique and hard to find ingredients and superior technique. However, I still pull it out ever so often to cook a few recipes.
I serve these tacos with Black beans with pumpkin seeds and hoja santa as a wonderful side.
Here are ome other taco/tostada recipes on this site: Tacos with stewed chicken with almonds and ancho chiles, Spicy grilled fish with heirloom tomato salsa, and Chicken tinga tostadas.
For more recipes from this cookbook click here.
For the cochinita pibil:
1/4 cup achiote/annatto paste or seeds
1/4 cup bitter orange juice, or 1/2 orange and 1/2 grapefruit juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 red onion
1 allspice berry
1 small garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
3 teaspoons white cane vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 banana leaves, gently roasted over direct fire
20 oz pork butt
For the pickled onions:
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Salt to taste
To make the pickled onions, add all the ingredients to a tupperware box and mix well. Marinate overnight in the fridge remembering to shake the box a few times.
For the Pibil: I first grind the seeds in a spice grinder till a fine powder is formed. Be careful, the annatto seeds are very hard and it takes some time to mill them down to a fine powder. Add this to the rest of the ingredients and blend together. Line a baking sheet with 2 banana leaves. Top with the suckling pig leg and coat it with the achiote adobo. Cover with the other banana leaf and roast in a 340° F oven for 2 hours. I did pull the dish out and check the water content after 1 hour and every 30 minutes after that (Picture 2). If the water was low, I topped it up with 3 tablespoons of water. I refrained from mixing the sauce, just added the water.
Remove from the oven, remove the top banana leaf, and pull the meat apart (Picture 2). The meat was fork tender and readily fell apart. Mix it in with the braised spices and juices. Keep the pulled apart meat well covered so that it does not dry out.
Serve on pan cooked tacos, corn preferred, and pickled onions, as is the traditional way. however, I did have avocado, cheese and lime wedges on the side for those who preferred them.