Cochinita Pibil – Yucatán-Style Barbecued Pork

To kick off the 24th UK National BBQ Week I fancied cooking something a little special ‘Low and Slow’ rather than a bog standard BBQ Pulled Pork or chancing my arm with a British Grass Fed Beef Brisket (They can often end up dry as they are bred quite lean for the UK market).

I had been watching a Covid-19 lockdown rerun of Rick Stein’s “The Road to Mexico” and in the final episode, where he heads east from Oaxaca to the Yucatan Peninsula, he had a Pibil taco ( the Piib is the Mayan method of cooking meat in a earth oven, a Piib, with hot stones covered with banana leaves for an extended period of time), so I decided it was time to try a Pibil but in my Nova Kamado Oven not digging a my garden up for an earth oven!

The Conchita Pibil is one of the mainstays of the Festival of Pibil, that takes place in a number of Central South America countries that formed the ancient Mayan civilisation, and normally uses the juice of the bitter Seville Oranges as the base along with Achiote.

The trick with this Pibil is to build up the flavour layers as you go, the result is spectacular and knocks the standard BBQ Pulled Pork into a “cocked hat……”

Ingredients

1.8kg boneless pork shoulder cut into 3cm thick slabs
3 Plum tomatoes, sliced
1 red or green pepper, sliced
1 large brown onion, sliced thinly
12 bay leaves
1 whole head garlic, separated into individual unpeeled cloves
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
40g of achiote (annatto) seeds
2 tablespoons of Mexican oregano (or normal Oregano if you can’t get Mexican)
3 whole cloves
1 large Ceylon cinnamon stick, or a medium piece of standard supermarket cinnamon
2 tablespoons of whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of whole cumin seed
1 tablespoon of whole Allspice berries (a teaspoon of ground Allspice can be used at a pinch)
180ml of bitter (Seville) orange juice, or 60ml each of lime, orange, and grapefruit juice
60ml) of white vinegar
15ml of dark soy sauce
Salt (I used some home oak smoked sea salt flakes, to add another layer smokiness to the marinade)

Optional:
6 to 8 banana leaves (see note)

Method

1. Break up the garlic bulb but don’t skin the cloves, and thread them all onto a metal skewer and grill directly over the flame of a gas hob until completely blackened on all sides. Alternatively toss the cloves in a hot dry frying pan for about 3 to 4 minutes. Peel the blackened skins off the cloves when cool enough to handle.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat until shimmering then add the achiote, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, black peppercorns, cumin, allspice and toast, continually tossing until fragrant, this will only take a couple of minutes so be careful not to burn it. Transfer to a blender along with peeled garlic, Seville Orange juice or the Orange\Grapefruit\Lime mix, vinegar, soy sauce, and a big pinch of salt. Blend the mixture until smooth and season to taste with more salt if required. The mixture should be quite salty and have a consistency like tomato ketchup as you want it to cover and stick to the meat, if it’s too thick then thin with a little water until it flows a little more easily.

3. Pour marinade over the slabs of meat massaging it in with your hands. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least for an hour but preferably overnight.

Marinade

4. Lay out a large piece of baking parchment then add a layer of sliced onion, tomato and bay leaves and lay the meat on top, add more onion, tomato and bay as you go. Wrap the parcel tightly with another sheet of parchment and then the whole lot with a sheet of thick foil so that the steam will be kept in.

Ready to wrap

note: if you have banana leaves light toast over a flame to make the leaf more pliable then lay one out and add the onion tomato and bay with a single slab of the pork and wrap, creating a tight parcel with another leaf then tie tightly with twine.

5. Set your BBQ up for indirect cooking and get the heat up to 130 – 150C add a chunk or two of wood (use a fruit wood for a sweeter smoke, apple or cherry works well), adding more wood each hour. Cook the meat until the internal temperature is around 95C (at this temperature the collagen breaks down so the pork will “pull”) and the meat feels soft when probed. It’ll take between 4 to 5 hours.

Smoked and tender

6. Remove pork from the BBQ and transfer the parcel to a platter or shallow bowl. Unwrap and serve immediately, shredding the pork between two forks pouring over any juices that are left in the parcel.

Cooked and unwrapped

Pulled Pibil

Serve and enjoy by stuffing it into tortillas with pickled red onions and salsa with some frijoles on the side

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