Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cochinita Pibil (or Puerco Pibil)

Cochinita Pibil

We were inspired to make Cochinita pibil after seeing Robert Rodriguez make it on his "10 minute cooking school", a short recipe video included on the Once Upon a Time in Mexico dvd. You can watch the video here:

At the heart of Pibil is the sauce that the pork marinates and then cooks in. It is a blend of achiote paste seasoned with cumin, mexican oregano, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, clove and garlic, plus citrus juices and habanero. Traditionally the citrus juice is from the sour orange, but we use a blend of sweet orange, lime and lemon juice instead.

The achiote is a small tree that grows in Mexico and other parts of Central and South America. It produces annatto seeds, which you can see here.

You can buy pre-made achiote paste, but it is pretty easy to make yourself by grinding up annatto seeds. They are extremely hard, though, so you'll want to use a coffee grinder. We tried using a mortar and pestle (*way* too much work) and a ceramic spice grinder (it couldn't get good enough purchase on the seeds). Trust me -- just use a coffee grinder.

Once the annatto seeds and hard spices have been ground to a very fine powder, they are blended up with the juices, garlic, salt and a seeded habanero to create a deep, brick-red colored marinade.

The other key technique in a pibil is that it cooks slow and low, wrapped up in banana leaves. Before wrapping, make sure to soften the leaves over a hot burner on your stove. You will clearly see the leaves change with the heat -- taking on a sheen as the oils are released.

Then line a casserole pan with the banana leaves and plop in your marinated pork pieces.

Encase the meat completely within the leaves to create a tight package, then cover with foil to ensure a moist steaming environment.

After roasting at 325' for about 4 hours, this is what you get when you unwrap.

Lovely soft pork pieces. Rich, complex and highly aromatic. Tangy from the citrus, earthy and fragrant from the achiote and just a hint of heat from the habanero.

The leftovers can be used to make fantasic pibil tacos.

Cochinita Pibil

Adapted from Robert Rodrigez' "10 minute cooking school" and Rick Bayless's Mexico, One Plate at a Time. A small coffee grinder dedicated to spices is the best method for creating the achiote powder.

2 1/2 tablespoons annatto seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
5 whole allspice berries
5 whole cloves
1 (2-3 inch) stick cinnamon
1 habanero pepper, seeded
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
4 garlic cloves
Dash tequilla
3 pounds boneless pork butt, cut in 2-inch squares
Banana leaves

Grind the annatto seeds to a fine powder using an electric spice grinder. Repeat with the cumin seeds, oregano, peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon and cloves.

Place the liquids, salt, garlic, habanero and powdered spices into a blender and blend well. Combine the marinade with pork chunks in a large ziplock bag. Refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.

Line a baking dish with banana leaves that have been softened over a flame or hot burner. Pour the pork and marinade into the dish and wrap with the leaves. Cover the pan with foil and roast in a preheated, 325 degree oven for 4 hours. Remove from oven and let rest 20 minutes. Serve with plain rice and a simple green salad.


  1. Just saw on their blog that the folks at the Linkery are reading our minds, and are currently making their take on pibil.

  2. This looks fantastic, i thought before reading on - hmm, isn't that the same dish from Once Upon a Time... and it was!! I'll try to make that soon - i just need to figure out where to get banana leaves. My yuppie neighborhood doesn't have it and i don't have the time to go looking... :(

  3. Yeah, banana leaves can be hard to find. We get ours at a local mexican-focused market. We've also seen them at asian markets, but they have been frozen.

  4. Great step by step and great pics

    I love that video too

    "if you can't cook, you can't ..."

    I really love the menu part of that video too... great idea for a bunch of folks


  5. YUM!! I can not wait for it to be done!! Thank you for posting this. Yet, I do not have banana leaves on hand (I could go to Chinatown), I am just using foil.

    Tho, I am sure the banana leaves give a better flavor.

  6. Hi Samantha - while the banana leaves definitely impact the flavor, the most important thing is the achiote mixture. I'm sure it would still be delicious just using foil.

  7. We had chochinita in Cozumel Mexico,finally after asking everyone in mexico and not getting any answers I found this wonderful video. The only problem is i cannot find the annato seeds. I found the banana leaves at the local mexican store,along with the already made acholte spice. I would really like to make the acholte from scratch,any suggestions on where to find the annatto seeds?

  8. We can get them at a local Mexican market, but before we found them there we ordered them online from Penzeys Spices.

  9. Got the banana leaves. I am gonna keep making this as many times as I can!