puerco pibil – Mexican pork to kill for

Stag plus 1 chef

Here’s a post about a stag weekend that Luke and I went on earlier this year. Not a common starting point for an interesting post on food, but bear with us. Being old, wise and averse to pain and humiliation, we were less interested in paintball and provincial nightclubs, and more interested in ‘classy’ drinks and fancy eating. So we rented a house in the country for the weekend, bought lots of exotic liquor and about 30kg of meat, and your two correspondents took care of cooking 3 days of food for 16 men.

The Mayans invented puerco pibil, and built this.

Catering for this many poses its own problems, but it gave us an opportunity to try out something we wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to cook – an enormous piece of pork, slow roasted Yucatecan style: ‘puerco pibil‘ or ‘cochinita pibil. I’d had this before on holiday in the Yucatan, Luke’s game for any serious meat endeavour, and Mexican-American film director Robert Rodriguez was thankfully on hand to guide us through the preparation. The key to this dish is the achiote powder which gives the pork an earthy, yet tangy flavour. It’s unfamiliar to the British palate and this is down to annatto seeds, a Mexican spice that can be hard to track down in the UK. We got pre-prepared achiote powder from specialist Mexican supplier www.coolchile.co.uk, but they seem to have stopped stocking it, so if you’re in the UK and can’t find it, then you can order annatto seeds here, here or here (you’ll need minimum 30g), and then make your own achiote powder.

What (for 8 people)

  • 2.5kg pork shoulder, sliced into 5cm cubes
  • 7 tblsp achiote powder
  • 5 tblsp annatto seeds, 2 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tbsp peppercorns, 8 allspice, 1/2 tsp cloves – ground finely in a spice grinder (annatto seeds are incredibly hard)
  • 150ml orange juice
  • 150ml white vinegar
  • 2 scotch bonnets or habanero chillies, remove seeds to moderate heat
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • juice of 5 limes
  • a splash of tequila
  • corn husks/banana leaves/tin foil to wrap the meat up with

Having got your hands on achiote powder, or ground your own, blend all the ingredients except the pork (and the corn husks/banana leaves/tin foil obviously) in a food processor or some such – note that the annatto will stain plastic orange-red, but this will fade with time/washing… Pour the resulting liquid over the pork and marinade in the fridge overnight. The next day, line a deep baking tray with corn husks (these will need pre-soaking for 30 minutes to soften)/banana leaves and put your meat on top, before covering with more corn husks/banana leaves and carefully seal the tray with tin foil – you don’t want the liquid evaporating and your meat drying out. If you can’t get corn husks/banana leaves, tin foil alone will do. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C, and then cook the meat for 4 hours. Result: meltingly tender hunks of spicy, citrusy and earthy pork. Serve with rice, beans, guacamole, salsa etc and marvel at how good real Mexican food can be.

Corn husk-encased meat

Piles of slow cooked spicy pork

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