Red Earthen Pig: Cochinita Pibil

Arcenia calls me "cochina" all the time.  It's a term of endearment, but as it directly translates to the word "pig", I am only mildy flattered.

I think she calls me cochina because I talk about things like gas, and fiber, and wearing clothes that I pick off my floor in the morning.  I launch diatribes her way, punctuated by derogatory remarks.  We're still good friends. 

Therefore, I thought it more than appropriate for us to tackle this Cochinita Pibil together.  Cochinita Pibil comes from the Yucatan.  "Cochinita" means "little pig", while Pibil  means "earthen".  

Originally, the Yucatecans buried suckling pigs, flavored with oranges, garlic, cloves, allspice, and annatto seeds, in the ground to cook.   The slow earthen roast makes for an incredibly tender texture.  The size of a suckling pig is a widely debated topic, at least for my father.  He claims that in Hong Kong suckling pigs are under 7 lbs.,  whereas in the states they stick to a more literal definition, and deem "suckling" pigs all those who are still on the teet. They can be up to 30 lbs. 

In any case, Cochinita Pibil is a vibrantly red dish, powered by annatto seeds, which come from the achiote tree.  Their battle red color is used across central america for cooking, dyeing clothes, making lipstick, and painting stop signs.  They are the type of multi-purpose stock items that I would surely bring to a bomb shelter if there was such a happenstance.  That, and coconut oil.   

I would use them to write in my ledger. 

The dish gained a minor following when film director Robert Rodriguez featured it in his film, Once Upon a Time in Mexico.  In it, Johnny Depp plays a weird man who vows to restore balance and order to Mexico by shooting all the chefs who prepare this dish too well.  

Robert Rodriguez is so fond of Puerco Pibil that he films a little cooking show of his own, published as a DVD add on for the film. He says that his approach to cooking is to hone a few dishes  very well.  For him, this dish is one of them. 

Here is my adapted version:

COCHINITA PIBIL (serves 8) Total time depends on marinating time.  Ranges from 12-24 hours. Active time 1 hour. 

SUMMARY You will make a rub and rub down your meat, folding it into a large banana leaf package.  The meat will marinate in the parcel for 5-16 hours, where it will be transferred to the oven and cooked on low temp for 5 hours.  Not very involved, but takes some prep. 

WARE Either a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. A LARGE roasting pan. 

- 5 T annatto seeds 
- 2 t cumin
- 1 T black peppercorns
- 8 whole allspice or 1 t mulling spices
- 1/2 t whole cloves
- 3 Serrano peppers, minced
- 1 c bitter orange juice (Sevillan Oranges), you can substitute equal parts orange and lime juice
- 1/3 c white vinegar
- 2 T salt
- 8 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane (or minced)
- 3 T Tequila
- 1 pork shoulder cubed in 2"x2" pieces (4.5 - 5 lbs)
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 package banana leaves (at least 4 full leaves)
- Foil. 
1. In a pan on med heat, toast and rattle the allspice, cloves, peppercorns, cumin, and cumin until they start to smell nice and spicey.  Remove from the heat, combine with annatto seeds,  and either pulvarize them in a spice grinder (aka a coffee grinder) or bang them in your mortar and pestle to make a fine powder. 

2. In a bowl, mix powder with the the garlic. 

3. Add the bitter orange juice, the vinegar, the tequila, and the salt to make a clay-like substance.  

4. Slather the spice mixture onto the cubed pork in an almost savage fashion.  Get in there. 

What will result are vibrant bricks. Set aside.

5.  Heat both sides of the leaf by running it along the flame of the stove.  The leaf should look a bit more vibrant in color.  There will be one shiny side and one matte side. The leaf should be relatively pliable.  

6. Line a large roasting pan with aluminun foil.  Make sure there is enough hangover on each side so that the foil can fold backwards once the pork has been set within, at least 12 inches.  Build a banana leaf bed for the pork butt on top of the foil by placing the leaves, shiny side down, in on top of the foil.  Again, make sure there is enough hangover on each side so that the leaves can fold backwards on the pork once it has been set within, at least 10 inches. 

7. Toss the rubbed-down pork and onions into the pan and cover by folding the banana leaves back over on themselves.  

8. Wrap with foil and seal tightly.  Stick it in your fridges and allows to marinate for at least 5 hours, ideally overnight. 

9. Once you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 275 F.  Slow roast the pork for 5 hours.  Once the pork reaches an internal temperature of at least 160 F it is ready to be eaten.  What comes out is a pork so tender that it falls apart while you portion it out.

Enjoy with rice or as a taco taco!


  1. Katie my dear, you are so talented cook. I am amaze, especially how young you are. I know age has nothing to do with it, but how many young out there has the ability to cook like you? I am totally impress!

  2. Mmmmmm looks so good. I love Cochinita Pibil. Annato seeds add such nice color to dishes and I always find them in random shops when I'm not looking for it, but then when I need it, I can't find it. I'll just have to pick up a bag the next time I see them.

  3. hells yeah. i love cochinita pibil. we used to make it all the time and haven't in awhile. thanks for the reminder. can i lay down in that banana leaf bed?

  4. I replaced the pork with beef, making it a "Carnita Pibil" I guess (y talvez mas delicioso tambien!). I bought the cheapest piece of beef I could find (which happened to be a round roast) because those are usually more flavourful; they're cheaper because they're significantly tougher, which can even be beneficial if you're slow cooking. I didn't have time to find any Annatto seeds so I used equal parts turmeric and paprika, and a little bonus smoked paprika. Then I cooked it for 2.5hrs at 275 and then reduced the heat to 225 for the next 3hrs.

    It was amazing. I'm gonna try that duck recipe next...


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