Cochinita Pibil

Cochinita PibilHome Plate
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of hosting my sons’ baseball team for dinner. Twenty or so 16–18-year-olds invaded my kitchen…and mass hysteria ensued. Team dinners are a long-standing tradition that rotates from house to house each week. Since the dinner the week prior to my hosting the event served tri-tip, and the week after is going with a pasta feed, I had to come up with something that the boys would like, that I could make a lot of, and wouldn’t break the bank.

After much deliberation and a suggestion from one of my boys, we went with tacos.

Tacos are always a good idea. I have never met a person who didn’t like tacos. (Although I am sure there is someone somewhere.) I could have made things super easy and had the whole party catered. But, my inner Abuela wouldn’t allow it. That’s just not how I roll. To save at least some of my sanity I did order large amounts of beans, rice, and salsa from my favorite taqueria—as well as a mountain of freshly-made tortillas. As it turned out I didn’t order enough.

I did make all the fillings. There was Pollo Asada, Carne Asada, and last but not least, Cochinita Pibil which is similar to Carnitas—except that instead of cooking the pork shoulder in lard you slow-cook it in a marinade with achiote paste and citrus juice. Alas, I did not dig a hole in my backyard and cook it in banana leaves as is traditional. I figured that might be just one step too far.

The Cochinita Pibil was so good. It was very hard not to keep stealing some for a snack throughout the day because I was worried about having enough. And, it turns out I should have been worried (and perhaps afraid).

Twenty-two boys showed up at my house after practice that evening and consumed 12 pounds of Carne Asada, 10 pounds of Pollo Asada, 10 pounds of the Cochinita Pibil, 4 quarts of rice, 3 quarts of beans, and about a dozen avocados worth of guacamole. It was like a swarm of locusts blew through. There was nothing left except for a few sad tortillas. It was a staggering display of teenage calorie consumption. How they still had room for ice cream after is astonishing. One of my sons ate himself to the point of pain. So, I guess it was tasty. He rallied the next day to head off to school no worse for wear.

I am hosting the team again at the end of the month since I have two kids on the team. I’m not sure what to have yet. But, I am more prepared now. And, I understand that even though I may think I have enough, it’s a good idea to add a little more just in case…

Cochinita Pibil Recipe
Yields about 16 tacos
Recipe adapted from Tacolicious by Sara Deseran 

For the Marinade
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 to 3 tablespoons achiote paste (available online or from Mexican grocers)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
8 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground pepper

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into two equal-sized pieces

To serve
Tortillas, sliced red onion, cilantro, salsa, and lime

Make the marinade
Combine the oil, achiote paste, orange juice, lime juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in a blender and puree until it is smooth.

Marinate the pork
Place the pork in a large heavy-duty zip-lock bag, add the marinade, and seal the bag. Rub it around to make certain the marinade evenly coats the pork. Place the bag in the refrigerator for 24 hours, turning the pork a few times to marinate evenly.

Preheat the oven
When ready to cook the pork, preheat the oven to 325 ºF and remove the pork from the refrigerator.

Line the roasting pan
Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil along the long side of the pan with some foil hanging over each end. Take another length of foil and line the pan on the short side, again with some foil hanging over each edge of the pan.

Roast the pork
Remove the pork from the marinade and place it in the center of the roasting pan, then pour the marinade over the meat. Fold the foil over the meat starting with the length on the short side of the pan laying it over the meat. Fold the foil on the long side over the other to completely cover the meat. Tuck in any of the sides around the meat. Cover the whole pan loosely with another sheet of foil and place it in the preheated oven until the meat is fork-tender (about 4 hours).

Shred the pork
Transfer the meat to a cutting board. Pour the marinade into a bowl and let stand while you shred the pork with two forks, throwing away any meat that is too fatty.

To serve
Transfer the meat to a bowl or casserole dish. Spoon off any fat that has risen to the top of the marinade and pour it over the meat to taste. Season with salt if needed.

Serve with tortillas, sliced red onion, cilantro, salsa, and lime.

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