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Smoked Puerco Pibil

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gracoman View Drop Down

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    Posted: 14 August 2013 at 20:23

Cochinita Pibil, Yucatan Delicacy

Cochinita pibil is the most famous dish originated in Yucatan. The extraordinary gastronomical variety of this region resulted from combining the Mayan traditions with European influences. For a long time, the Peninsula of Yucatan had very limited access by land, because of this, it was kept isolated from the rest of Mexico; but its ports and commercial treaties kept it in constant exchange with Europe. This great mix resulted in a delicious combination of Spanish pork with pre-Hispanic condiments and cooking techniques, enjoyed in our time as cochinita pibil. 

This dish is prepared with pork meat marinated in achiote and wrapped in banana leaves; traditionally it is cooked underground over hot stones, pibil in Mayan means “under the ground”. This preparation, as well as many other Mexican recipes, has pre-Hispanic roots and still preserves the technique of cooking within ground ovens, holes with stones heated for hours over firewood. 

Achiote or annatto is a tree original from Central America and Mexico, able to grow on different types of soil and endure prolonged droughts. It produces a fruit in the form of a capsule, 2 inches long, when it matures it uncovers red seeds, these are mixed with other spices to form an orange paste, which is the condiment characteristic of extraordinary dishes. Curiously, in addition to its culinary value this condiment was used by the Mayas as bug repellent and colorant for dairy products, paints and textiles. It was also used as body and face paint in religious rituals. It is known for therapeutic properties as an astringent, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and healing agent. 

The traditional cochinita pibil recipe demands lining a tray with banana leaves and placing the pork on top. Achiote is dissolved in orange juice and spices are added, this is poured over the pork until the meat is fully soaked. This is left to marinate for at least eight hours. Later, the meat is covered with the banana leaves and slowly roasted underground until meat is completely tender. 

This delicacy is enjoyed in tacos or sandwiches, garnished with pickled onions and the traditional Habanero salsa, one of the hottest peppers in the world. 

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This recipe is a 3 day process and a conglomeration of several recipes I’ve worked over the years with the personally added bonus of smoke.  There is so much going on in this dish it is difficult to describe.  It is an absolute delight to the senses with so many colors, textures, flavors and, if you want, a show stopping presentation.    

The achiote spice powder is directly from Robert Rodriguez well known 10 minute cooking school and it is key.  Commercially produced achiote is available but freshly ground makes this a different animal.  Take the time. 

 Smoked Puerco Pibil

- 5 lbs Pork Butt

- 5 T Annato Seed

- 2 tsp Cumin Seed 

- 1 T Black Peppercorns

- ½ tsp Whole Cloves

- 8 to 10 Whole Allspice Berries

- 1 T Kosher Salt

- 10 Cloves Garlic

- 3 Habanero Peppers 

- 1/4 C Tequila

- 1 to 2 C Sour Orange (Naranja Agria).   If unavailable use a mix of ½ Orange Juice and ½ White Vinegar and squeeze 3 or 4  limes in there.  I would have preferred  to have used 100% pure sour orange juice but it was unavailable at the time and I didn’t want to wait for an online order to come through so I went with the Goya Bitter Orange sold in a local latino market.  It is mostly Naranja Agria but has  some  grapefruit juice in there.  In a taste test, the Goya had a brighter, fresher taste that the OJ/Vinegar mix so Goya it was. The amount of juice added determines how dry or saucy the finished product will be.  I used 1 ½ C.  Do not use more than 2.

1. Grind the Annato, Cumin Seed, Whole Cloves, Allspice Berries and Peppercorns into a fine powder with a coffee/spice grinder.  Annato Seeds are like hard little rocks and if you try to grind these with a mortar and pestle you will likely have produce a gritty mess.  Not allowed.

2. Put on a pair of latex gloves.  Remove membrane and seeds from habanero peppers

3. Add the Sour Orange (or OJ/vinegar/lime juice mix), Tequila, Habaneros, Salt, Garlic Cloves and Spice Powder to blender.  Blend on high for  2 Minutes.  

4. Cut pork into 2 − 3 inch chunks and place in a large Ziploc bag.  Pour the Achiote you just made over the pork.  Seal and massage the bag a bit to evenly distribute.  Refrigerate overnight.

5. Set up the smoker for a 200 degree (or less) indirect low and slow adding chunks of your favorite smoking wood to the fire.  When that thin blue smoke appears, remove pork chunks from the marinade and place on the smoker for as long as you feel would be right for your tastes.  My advice is to keep it light.  The smoke adds a welcome addition the recipe but we do not want to overpower all of the other wonderful things happening here. Balance my friends… always balance.  An hour should do the trick.  Remove the smoked pork from the cooker and place it back in the marinade bag to re coat with sauce.

6. Clean and prep the banana leaves and line a baking tray or dutch oven with a couple of layers of them.  Let enough of the leaves hang over tray edges to fold over meat.

7. Pour the Ziploc of pork and marinade into the prepped tray and fold the banana leaves over for a tight seal.   

8. Cover the entire tray tightly with foil (we don’t want any steam escaping) and place on smoker indirect running at 275 − 300 degrees grate temp. Let it cook until the meat hits 205 degrees.

9.  Let it cool and place in the fridge for 24 hours.  Longer certainly won’t hurt it any.

10. Re heat slowly on stove top, in oven or slow cooker and serve over rice sprinkled with red wine vinegar and fresh lime juice.


Pico de Gallo - Self explanatory

TasunkaWitko’s Mayan Pickled Red Onions 


·         1 Red onion, thinly sliced

·         5 black peppercorns

·         3 allspice berries

·         1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

·         1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican preferred

·         2 cloves garlic, minced

·         1/3 cup white vinegar

·         Salt


Place the onions in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for 1 minute and then drain. Discard the water.

Coarsely grind the peppercorns, allspice, and cumin seeds in a spice or coffee grinder. Add to the onions.

Add the remaining ingredients, and enough water to barely cover. Allow the mixture to marinate for a couple hours or overnight to blend the flavors.

These are excellent!!!  Thank you TW!!!

Traditional Habanero Onion Garnish

-    1 Red Onion, thinly sliced

-    3 habanero peppers

-    Juice of 1 lime

-    Salt to taste

Put on gloves and finely slice habanero peppers.  Do NOT remove seeds or membrane.  Add lime juice and salt.  Mix and refrigerate overnight.  Don’t be afraid of this.  It is flavorful, addictive and pretty.  Good stuff.

I can tell from an ingredient list how a recipe will work or not work.  The Mayan Pickled Red Onions caught my eye immediately and I was not disappointed.  That is a keeper and I plan on putting them together frequently.  Thanks again for that.  It’s an impressive recipe!

The plated pic I posted was one example of how to impress folks who eat with their pinky fingers up in the air. The banana leaf easily increases the coolness by a factor of 10.

All in all, this is a wondrous cook with an ancient history that will never be forgotten by the unsuspecting friends or relatives you serve it to.  (Make the tortillas)

The Cook

Achiote ingredients 


In the spice grinder.  

Sour Orange (Goya), Tequila, Habaneros, Salt, Garlic Cloves and Spice Powder

All in a blender

Pork chunks chunks in a large Ziploc bag with marinade

Marinated pork on smoker


Smoked pork in prepared pan lined with banana leaves

Wrap it up tight

Tightly foiled and back on the cooker

Stage 2 is complete.  Let this cool and place in the fridge overnight to fully develop flavors

Prepare the garnishes and let them also sit in the fridge overnight.  Same reason.  Mayan onions on the left, Habanero on the right

We're going to need the corn tortilla press

Fry them up

Re-heat the puerco and pull into sheds while in the sauce

Plated with rice, pico de gallo, mayan and habanero onion garnishes all on a banana leaf.  How cool is that!

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africanmeat View Drop Down

Joined: 20 January 2012
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote africanmeat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 August 2013 at 13:33
This dish looks great , nice colors .
from 1 to 10 how hot is it ?
you know if you replace the banana leaf  on your plate with a sushi nori and roll it .
you will get a mexican sushi LOL.
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gracoman View Drop Down

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 August 2013 at 13:58
Originally posted by africanmeat africanmeat wrote:

This dish looks great , nice colors .
from 1 to 10 how hot is it ?
you know if you replace the banana leaf  on your plate with a sushi nori and roll it .
you will get a mexican sushi LOL.

The flavorful pork is not spicy at all.  I'll give it a 2.  

The habanero garnish has a good amount of heat right after assembly but it mellows in the fridge.  I'll go with a 7 at the start and a 5 after 24 hours.  That said, I'm the wrong person to ask about heat of spicy foods.  I'm always eating spicy foods and have developed a tolerance.

The Mayan Onions and Pico De Gallo are cooling.  Sliced avocado or guacamole would also go well with this.
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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 August 2013 at 12:21
Awesome post! I have done similar things but you are able to take the ball and run it all the way to the end zone! Great job!
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