Crockpot Cochinita (Puerco) Pibil: Yucatecan-style Pork with a Telenovela Twist

The last place I expected to find a good recipe for Cochinita Pibil, was in the comments of an English-language website that recaps Spanish-language telenovelas.

cochinita pibil telenovela style from Maoomba

If you’re asking yourself how I wound up reading the comments on that site, I have both an easy and a more complicated answer for you.

The easy answer is that the site has a Google+ page where the recipe was posted all on its own.  When I searched for Cochinita Pibil, it came right to the top.  I could have stopped there.

The more complicated answer came about when I tried to find the source of the recipe by doing a broader web search.  I found myself buried dozens of comments deep on the originating post:

The deeper I dug, the more I learned.  Like:

  • Taco de ojo = Eye candy of the food variety (Literally: eye taco)
  • People from all over the world want to read about and comment – both sincerely and with tongue firmly planted in cheek – on over-the-top Mexican television dramas, with their stories and characters so unlike anything in English.
  • Telenovelas are littered with references to delicious sounding food, such as Squash Blossom Soup, Salsa Negra, Guerrero-style Chalupitas with Chicken, and Fish Veracruz.
  • Oh, and I remembered how much I liked watching them when I lived in Latin America and Russia – yep, even the Russians loved their Flor Salvaje (Дикая Роза) as much as local shows.

Anyway, I digress. Crockpot Cochinita Pibil is the reason you are here.  Please know that “Audrey”, a frequent commenter on the Caray, Caray blog is the source of the recipe I’m sharing.

Talk to me about cochinta pibil…

Cochinita pibil (also puerco pibil) is a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán Península. Preparation of traditional cochinita or puerco pibil involves marinating the meat in strongly acidic citrus juice, coloring it with annatto seed, and roasting the meat while it is wrapped in banana leaf.”

By the way, cochinita = little pig and pibil = buried.  The dish is traditionally made by pit-roasting a suckling pig.   Today, we’ll be making it with pork shoulder or loin.

And the banana leaves – well, try looking for them at a Latin or Southeast Asian market.  They are cheap (I found a big bag full for 99 cents), you can use them in a number of ways, and they freeze easily.  And, if you can’t find any, don’t worry about them at all – the flavor is very subtle and, since we will be using a crockpot and won’t need to protect the meat from dirt, the pork will be fine.

Banana Leaves

What is Achiote?

You may not recognize the words, but most of us have eaten our fair share of annatto as a natural food coloring in processed foods – think Cheddar cheese or Mac’nCheese.

The achiote – also known as annatto – is sometimes called the “lipstick-tree” because natives of the Central and South American countries in which the tree grows, often used the seeds in lipstick or body paint.  Some describe its unusual flavor as “nutty, sweet and peppery”, but frankly, I couldn’t quite make out those particular tastes and it took a couple of bites of the finished pork for my taste buds to warm up to the flavor.

Some people have allergies to annatto – something to pay attention to as you try this dish out.

Achiote paste is made from ground achiote seeds and a variety of other ingredients (mostly garlic, citrus juice, chiles and salt).

Any special prep?

Wash your banana leaves.  I put mine on a cookie sheet, pour in some warm water, and used my hands to rub off any residue before rinsing them under running water.  Pat them dry for good measure.

Wash banana leaves

Achiote Paste – you can buy it, but it is better to make your own:

  • Store-bought achiote paste (which is called for in the recipe) typically includes “stuff you may not want to eat” – like preservatives, MSG and food dyes.
  • Home-made achiote marinade or paste can be made easily by grinding whole annatto, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, pepper, nutmeg, garlic, and then adding in water, vinegar, or orange juice until it forms a paste.  If these are not spices you’ll use regularly, consider buying them in small quantities from the bulk spice section – Whole Foods, health food stores, and sometimes the healthy food aisles of your grocery store have a bulk spice display.

Achiote Paste

Pickled Onions – these are considered essential to the overall flavor of the dish.  The tanginess complements the pork’s flavor nicely.  A recipe, also provided by Audrey, is listed below.

Citrus – The acidity in this dish typically comes from Seville, or bitter, oranges.  If you have access to them, great.  Otherwise, a combination of sweet and tart citrus fruit juice  – as in the following recipe – works just fine.

Citrus Fruit

# of Ingredients – the list seems long, but it is actually a very quick marinade to make.  Once it is ready, simply soak the meat overnight, line the crockpot with banana leaves (optional), and pour meat and marinade in to cook for the day.  Voila!













Crock-pot Cochinita Pibil (Vinegar-free) Recipe

Recipe from Audrey, Caray, Caray blog comment

2 ounces fresh lime juice
2 ounces fresh lemon juice
4 ounces fresh orange juice
4 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
4 pounds pork Boston butt (pork shoulder roast)
2 teaspoons salt, divided
4 ounces achiote paste (preferably homemade)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 pound banana leaves, thawed if previously frozen
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
5 bay leaves

In a bowl, mix the lime juice, lemon juice, orange juice and grapefruit juice and set aside. (This is to approximate the flavor of the Seville (sour) orange or naranja agria, the citrus traditionally used in this dish. If such oranges are available, use 12 ounces of their juice instead).

Trim exterior fat off pork. Cut the pork into 10 to 12 pieces if possible – or cut deep cuts. Rub the pieces lightly with 1 teaspoon salt and set aside in a large plastic bag.

Cut the achiote paste into pieces, and slowly stir in the fruit juices to dissolve. Add the thyme, oregano, garlic, pepper, cumin, paprika and 1 teaspoon salt. Pour the marinade on the meat. Marinate in the refrigerator sealed in the plastic bag for at least 4 to 6 hours or, preferably, overnight – turn at least once.
Thaw the banana leaves if frozen, rinse and pat dry. Cover the bottom and sides of the crock-pot with the banana leaves, overlapping the leaves and letting them spill over the sides of the pot.

Place the meat in the pot and cover with the sliced red onion and bay leaves. Pour over the remaining marinade and lay a banana leaf piece over the top. Fold over the banana leaves that spilled over the sides of the pot to wrap the meat. Cover the top of the crock-pot.

Cook on low for 6 hours or more until the meat has reached 190+ degrees internal temp. 190+ is required for the pork to be “pullable”.
While the meat is cooking, prepare the Pickled Red Onions – see recipe.

Unwrap banana leaves and scrape the red onions and bay leaves off the top – reserve for later use (maybe cook down more to soften onions if needed). Remove meat from crock-pot and let stand covered lightly with foil for 30 minutes. Then shred the meat and remove the bone.

While meat is standing, pour the remaining juices from the crockpot into a saucepan and simmer to reduce to about half. Taste and add salt if needed. Pour over the shredded meat.

Serve with pickled red onions and bottled habañero sauce.

Recipe for the essential condiment Pickled Red Onions follows. It’s not Cochinita Pibil without it.

Pickled Red Onions for Cochinita Pibil

1 large red onion
1/2 teaspoon oregano
5 whole allspice berries
5 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
juice 1/2 lime
juice 1/2 orange

1. Slice red onion into thin rings, and place in non-reactive bowl. Cover with boiling water and let sit for 10 to 20 seconds. Pour onions into a strainer to drain, and return them to the bowl.

2. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over red onions. Stir and press down onions. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

3. Stir marinating onions occasionally. Let marinate and chill for several hours before serving as a garnish.

Permalink posted by  Audrey on the CarayCaray Blog : Sat Jan 07, 11:29:00 AM EST


Have you cooked Cochinita Pibil?  What’s your favorite recipe?


8 Comments on Crockpot Cochinita (Puerco) Pibil: Yucatecan-style Pork with a Telenovela Twist

  1. Alex
    June 14, 2012 at 9:42 am (3 years ago)

    This looks like a heck of a lot of effort. But it also looks totally worth it!! I’m bookmarking this for when I have a copious amount of free time…and also a larger crockpot, since I think mine is too small for this.

    • Stormy Sweitzer - Maoomba-in-chief
      June 14, 2012 at 10:29 am (3 years ago)

      Hey there, Alex! It’s surprisingly less work than you might think. My recommendation is to make a big batch of the achiote paste and freeze it in the amounts you need for 1 crock pot full. The banana leaves are optional. So, you are left with squeezing a couple of citrus fruit and stirring in spices, letting pork chunks marinate overnight in it (possibly in the crock itself), and then setting the crockpot to low for the day. It’s ready for dinner! The onions are good, but it’s fine if you don’t make them.

  2. Sylvia Dewy
    April 19, 2013 at 5:19 am (2 years ago)

    This is a great site. Awesome recipes.. Thanks for Sharing :)

    • Maoomba
      April 22, 2013 at 7:59 am (2 years ago)

      Thank you, Sylvia – I really appreciate your kind words!

  3. yvonne
    February 9, 2014 at 8:14 pm (10 months ago)

    I made it! Its awesome! I wanted to ask why your recipe didn’t call for cinnamon? A lot of the recipes call for it but I think your recipe is awesome. I was able to find the Seville orange and I was super excited to use these instead of the combination of citrus. Thank you!

    • Maoomba
      February 10, 2014 at 6:55 am (10 months ago)

      Hi Yvonne, thank you for dropping by to let me know you liked it!

      I can only take credit for explaining the ingredients. The original recipe was from someone else and did not call for cinnamon, nor did the achiote paste recipe I used.

      If you like the taste of cinnamon, you can either add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the pork marinade OR grind 1/2 of a cinnamon stick into the achiote paste if you make it from scratch. The cinnamon will blend well with the orange flavor of the dish. Thank you for your question!


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