Cochinita Pibil is a traditional Mexican pork stew that is incredibly flavorful! Fall-apart tender pork in an earthy and smokey sauce based on orange juice and achiote paste. This is a recipe for your super special Main Dish recipe collection.
Where Is This Special Pork Stew From?
It is originally from the state of Yucatán, Mexico, where it is mainly served on Sunday mornings or festive days. But now it is traditionally eaten all over Mexico year-round.
Its origin goes back to the pre-Hispanic era and used to be prepared as Hanal Pixan which means food for the souls. So it’s meant as a stew to share with the souls of our ancestors. Isn’t that beautiful?
Traditionally, Cochinita Pibil is tightly wrapped in banana leaves and buried in a pit with a fire at the bottom to braise it. That earth oven is called a “pib” in the Mayan language hence the name of the dish “pibil”.
Originally, pheasant, boar, deer, or armadillo was used as meat in the stew, but with the arrival of the Spanish conquerors so did pork and the dish slowly transitioned into being a mainly pork-based stew. It was eventually then called “Cochinita” Pibil, which basically means baby pork braised in an earth oven.
For a super traditional and authentic recipe check out this amazing video made by a born and raised Yucateco. And this video shows an even more traditional cooking process. I’ve tried the Cochinita Pibil cooked in the traditional earth oven and there just is no better meat I’ve ever tasted. My version tries to get to the original flavors as much as possible, but if you ever get the chance to travel to Mexico and try the real deal, DO IT! SO GOOD!
The Main Ingredients
- Pork — pork shoulder (butt, blade, picnic) or pork leg both work. The most important is that it has a lot of marbling and that you remove the thick layers of fat and still have enough meat left.
- Oranges — typically Cochinita Pibil marinade uses Seville oranges which taste very bitter and are not that easy to find. So to get the acidity into the marinade what a lot of people do is simply add vinegar to the orange juice of any other orange.
- Apple Cider Vinegar — the orange juice simply needs to be acid so you can add either lime juice, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar to it. Whichever you prefer. My favorite is apple cider vinegar.
- Garlic — some recipes call for onion as well. I prefer to add only garlic because I love serving the Cochinita with onion salsa already.
- Spices — this is where the biggest difference is between all stews you’ll try in Mexico. Some add few spices like salt and oregano only, other like to add cinnamon, clove, and cumin as well. Our family likes it with all the spices.
- Achiote Paste (Annato Paste) — this is the most important ingredient and what differentiates a simply pulled pork stew from a true Cochinita Pibil. It is a paste made of the red seeds of the Bixa Orellana. Achiotl in the Aztec’s Nahuatl language means “red dye” or “red paint”. You can find this condiment in any Hispanic grocery store or online.
- Banana leaves — this ingredient is optional but does give the cochinita a slightly more earthy taste. If you can get your hands on it it’s definitely worth adding. They are actually way easier to find than many believe. Any Hispanic and Asian grocery store tends to have them. They are often sold frozen.
How To Prepare the Pork And Marinade
- Trim fat — trim as much of the thick layers of fat from your pork shoulders. The stew needs fat to make the pork tender so don’t remove the fat in between the meat. Do cut off the thick layers on the side though or else your cochinita pibil will taste too oily.
- Cut into 2″ pieces — you can leave the pork shoulders whole if you prefer. I prefer to cut them into big pieces to ensure the marinade penetrates the meat from all sides.
- Make orange juice — there is nothing like fresh orange juice. You need 1 cup of it for 4 lbs of pork. I used 8 oranges to get to 1 cup.
- Add spices — add chopped garlic, spices, and achiote paste to the orange juice. Then either blend in a blender, use a food processor or mix by hand. The blender takes only 2 minutes and by hand, it’ll take more like 15 minutes. I mix it by hand because the achiote dyes the plastic jug of my blender. If you have a glass jug on your blender use your blender!
- Add the marinade — add the marinade to the pork and use tongs to mix it well.
- Marinate — cover your bowl tightly with cling film and marinate the meat for at the very very least 2 hours but better overnight and up to 24 hours in the fridge.
How To Make Cochinita Pibil In The Pressure Cooker
- Line Pot with banana leaf — if you got your hands on banana leaves, line your pot with a small piece. There are several things you have to pay attention to avoid the burn warning though. Add a little water (1/4 – 1/3 cup) and let it sit for a few minutes to ensure the leaf is soft and very wet. Also, make sure some of the stew liquid can get to the bottom of the pot. Fold the leaf in a way that makes this possible. If you have one of those super finicky instant pots that give you the burn warning when you just look at them a certain way: don’t line your pot and just put the top leaf on the stew.
- Add marinated pork — add your marinated pork to your instant pot.
- Top with banana leaf — top the stew with another small piece of banana leaf. If you don’t have any banana leaves simply omit steps 1 and 3. No problem at all, the Cochinita Pibil will still turn out amazing.
- Pressure Cook — pressure cook the pork for 90 minutes on high pressure then wait for full natural pressure release. A lot of recipes out there suggest 45 minutes or 60 minutes, and while the pork does cook through in that time, it does not really get fall-apart tender. You’re always better off with longer cooking times.
- Remove banana leaf — remove the top banana leaf with some tongs. Banana leaves are not edible, we just add them for the extra earthy flavor they provide. Then, transfer the meat to a shallow container and use two forks to pull the meat apart. Pulling apart is easier in a shallow container than in the big pot.
- Serve — once all the meat is pulled apart give it a quick toss in the juices and serve.
How To Make This Stew In The Slow Cooker Or In The Oven
In the slow cooker you basically follow the same steps as in the pressure cooker version. Instead of the 90-minute pressure cooking time, you just set your slow cooker to 5 hours on high or 10 hours on low.
Same as with the pressure cooker, make sure the bottom banana leaf does not prevent the stew liquid from seeping to the bottom or it’ll burn.
To make the stew in the oven you follow the same directions as with the pressure cooker. Use a dutch oven for this. Place it in the 400F preheated oven then immediately turn down the heat to 325F and slow roast for 4 hours. The reason we preheat the oven to 400F is so the stew gets to a boil first, and then continues simmering on low. It’s important that you do not forget to reduce the heat!
Some people cook the meat wrapped in aluminum foil instead of using banana leaves. I do not recommend using aluminum foil unless absolutely necessary because the aluminum can be transferred to the food. Covering a baking dish with foil if needed is ok as long as it doesn’t touch the food. This is when a dutch oven comes in handy.
What Goes With Cochinita Pibil?
The number one thing Cochinita Pibil is served with are spicy pickled red onions and this is how you make them:
Peel and thinly slice a large red onion. Deseed and thinly slice a habanero chili. Add salt, pepper, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, and a little olive oil to it and mix well. Store in the refrigerator at the very least 6 hours, better overnight and up to a week.
It is a very similar recipe to the Peruvian Salsa Criolla.
Apart from this, cochinita pibil is pretty much always served in tacos made with corn tortillas and fresh cilantro sprinkled on top.
How To Make Tacos de Cochinita Pibil
The most common way to eat Cochinita Pibil is in form of tacos with the pickled onions and freshly chopped cilantro on top.
Simply heat corn tortillas in a hot dry pan to make them pliable and wrap them in a kitchen towel to keep warm.
Then make a “taco bar” on the table for everybody to build their own.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cochinita pibil meat is juicy and very soft, it almost melts in your mouth. The taste is a mix of the acidity of the orange juice and achiote marinade and the richness of the spices. The flavor can change drastically depending on the recipe and spices used, but it usually has a deep earthy flavor.
Cochinita means baby pig and pibil means braised in an earth oven (a pib).
It is not hot spicy but definitely spicy in the sense that the achiote, cinnamon, clove, and cumin give a strong rich flavor.
- 5 lbs pork shoulder - any part is fine
- 8-10 oranges - 1 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp clove
- 3.5 oz achiote paste
- 1 banana leaf - optional
- 1 large red onion
- 1-2 habanero chilis
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
- sea salt
- corn tortillas
- Trim thick layers of fat from pork and cut into large 2-3" chunks.
- Press 1 cup orange juice out of oranges, add 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, chopped garlic, sea salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and clove and give it all a quick whisk. Then add achiote paste in junks and mix by hand or mix everything in the blender (faster but may stain your blender red if the jug is made of plastic).
- Pour marinade over pork and use tongs to mix well. Then cover airtight with cling film and place in the refrigerator for at the very least 2 hours, better overnight, and up to 24 hours.
- Finely slice red onion and deseeded habanero chili and add to a sealable bowl or jar, add lime juice, 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, olive oil, sea salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Seal and place in the refrigerator until it's time to serve.
- In the Pressure Cooker: Add a piece of banana leaf to the bottom of the pressure cooker (*see notes) and wet with 1/4-1/3 cup water, then add the marinaded pork, then put another piece of banana leaf on top of the pork. Seal the pot and set it to 90 minutes on high pressure. Then wait for natural pressure release.In the Slow Cooker: Add a piece of banana leaf to the bottom of the slow cooker without covering the whole bottom, just part of it. Put marinated pork on top, then put another piece of banana leaf on top of the pork. Place the lid on the slow cooker and set it to 5 hours on high or 10 hours on low.In the Dutch Oven: Preheat the oven to 400F. Add a piece of banana leaf to the bottom of your dutch oven without covering the whole bottom, just part of it. Put marinated pork on top, then put another piece of banana leaf on top of the pork. Put on the lid, place in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 325F. Braise for approximately 4 hours.
- Discard banana leaves, they are not edible. Use two forks to shred the pork. This will be very easy, the pork will fall apart as soon as the forks touch it. Mix in well into the marinade.
- Serve the cochinita pibil on heated corn tortillas and top with onion salsa.