What is cochinita pibil?
The Mexican dish, cochinita pibil (pronounced “kogh-i-nee-ta pi-bill”) originally comes from the Yucatan province of Mexico and consists of slow-cooked pork with a unique earthy, smoky and sweet flavour. It is one of the milder dishes on the Mexican menu; if you omit the regional hot side dishes (chilli salsa and spicy pink onion), there isn’t even a pepper involved.
The traditional way to prepare the dish is to wrap a whole pig in a banana leaf and bury it in a pit lined with hot stones to let it cook slowly for hours. This old-fashioned forebear to the oven is also called a Mayan oven or pib. In Spain, dishes prepared in this way are called pibil.
A pib works a bit like a big green egg. The ingredients remain juicy, thanks to the steam and the heat, while the smoke gives the food a unique taste. This is a barbeque at its best!
Did you know...
In some small villages in Yucatan Province of Mexico, cochinita pibil is still prepared in a pib. They use young, free-range pigs, which makes the meat tender.
How to prepare cochinita pibil
If you make cochinita pibil in the traditional Mayan way, you start with a whole pig and rub it in with achiotepasta – a mixture of annatto (a natural colouring also used in Vietnamese cuisine) bitter orange juice and warm fragrant spices like cumin powder, coriander powder and black pepper. The pig is then wrapped in banana leaves and placed on top of the hot rocks in the pit. Next, the pit is covered with extra leaves and branches from the banana tree before it is completely sealed with sand. The meat is then left to cook until the meat falls from the bones.
In most kitchens, however, cochinita pibil is made with smaller, manageable pieces of pork, such as the leg or shoulder. The meat is wrapped in banana leaves and smoked and roasted on a barbeque or in an oven. It still takes a few hours before you can eat, but at least your backyard has not been turned into a giant sandbox.
How to eat
According to true Yucatanean tradition, the shredded pork meat is served on a warm tortilla topped with pieces of habanero pepper and pink pickled onions. If you prefer a milder Mexican dish, replace the hot toppings with fresh pico de gallo.
Leftover scraps of cochinita pibil are delicious with everything: as a topping on pizza, with pasta, in tacos or quesadillas and even on a regular sandwich. You don’t have to let a single scrap go to waste!