July 21, 2016
In the Yucatan they marinate huge pieces of pork in a wonderful red spice mixture, wrap it in banana leaves and bury it in a pit to cook very slowly for many hours. It makes a wonderful dish for a crowd – and the leftovers give you great tacos for days.
This easy home version doesn’t require a yard or a pit, but it does require a trip to a Latino grocery store for the achiote and frozen banana leaves. It also requires a bit of forethought; the pork needs to marinate for at least 12 hours, to soak up the flavor of all those spices.
Spice-rubbed pork cooked in Banana Leaves (Cochinita Pibil)
Shopping list: 6 or 7 pound bone-in pork shoulder, cut in half. 1 package of banana leaves. 2 tablespoon achiote seed. 2 teaspoon peppercorns. 2 teaspoon dried oregano. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds. 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. (2 inch Mexican cinnamon stick) 2 teaspoon coriander seeds. 2 limes. 3 onions. 2 red peppers (not hot). 2 hot peppers.
Staples: 2 teaspoons salt, 8 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup cider vinegar
Serves 8-10, with some left over for tacos.
Put the spices into a spice grinder; whirl to a paste. This may take a bit of time; achiote seed are rather hard and dense. Add garlic cloves and vinegar. Whirl again. Add the juice of 2 limes.
Smear the deep red paste onto the two halves of the pork shoulder, cover well and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
The next day remove the pork from the refrigerator and the banana leaves from the freezer. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Peel the onions, cut them in half,then slice them lengthwise into matchsticks. Saute them in a bit of olive oil until they turn translucent. Meanwhile, slice the peppers into strips (use rubber gloves for the hot ones.) Add the pepper strips to the onions, sprinkle in salt and pepper and saute them, until they’ve all gone limp and tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
By now the banana leaves should be defrosted (it takes about half an hour). Remove them from the package, unfold them and cut off the frayed edges and the thick middle spine with kitchen shears. To make them soft and pliable, quickly run each leaf across a gas burner. I love watching the way the color change ripples across the leaves, turning them shiny in a matter of seconds.
Line two dutch ovens or casseroles with banana leaves. Then put each piece of pork on a banana leaf, top each one with half of the onion/pepper mixture and wrap the packages well, tucking in the ends.
Cook for 3-4 hours in a slow oven.
Serve with white rice, black beans and pickled onions.
Pickled Red onions.
Shopping list: 2 red onion
Staples: 6 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 4 cups water.
Slice the onions into fairly thin rings.
Put 4 cups of water into a small pot and stir in the vinegar, sugar and salt, and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the onions and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain. These will keep for a week or so in the refrigerator.
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I have a severe banana allergy, and even though I haven’t eaten banana leaves I think I should avoid all parts of a banana. Any ideas on a substitute wrapper?
The banana leaves are fun to use. They look lovely and impart a green, herbal but subtle scent. But they aren’t necessary; you could certainly use aluminum foil instead.
What kind of peppers are you using for the hot and the not hot?
would not use aluminum foil to wrap ingredients containing an acid like vinegar. corn husks soaked in hot water would work, won’t taste quite the same. You don’t actually need a leaf wrap at all. They are there for flavor but not function.
Thanks Sue, you’re right about that. No wrap needed.
Lauren, you could use red bells for ‘not hot’ and either Serranos, Fresnos or Jalepeños for the ‘hot’–(De-seed and remove membranes for less heat and more flavor). If you have an Asian Market locally, ask grocer for some suggestions for “Medium heat”.