Pork shoulder or pork butt is one versatile piece of porcine goodness. It is infinitely flexible and can be at home in any cuisine. It can be roasted, braised, cut up and stewed, barbecued or smoked and of course it is the main ingredient in sausage. On top of all that I love how it can feed a crowd and everyone loves it. I use it often and this time it was Mexican cuisine I turned to, specifically that of the Yucatan peninsula.
I’ve been reading through David Sterling’s awesome book, Yucatan. It is an amazing piece of work about the lovely food of that region, many of which we enjoy but maybe do not know that it is from the Yucatan specifically. One of the most well known Yucatecan (I love that word!) dishes is the Cochinita Pibil. A Piib is an oven/pit that is dug in the ground. Foods cooked in it acquire the acronym Pibil. The food cooked in it is usually covered with banana leaves so they slowly tenderize, smoke and steam as well as acquire a lovely herbal aroma.
Since I did not have any banana leaves lying around and no Piib dug in my yard I am not calling this Cochinita (pork) Pibil but that does not mean it is any less delicious or special. The main flavor in this preparation is from the marinade. It’s called Recado Rojo and consists of plenty of ground Achiote (aka Annatto), allspice, black pepper, white vinegar, seville orange juice (I used a mix of lemon, lime and grapefruit juices since seville oranges are not in season now), charred garlic and Mexican oregano. I marinated the pork with this mixture overnight before cooking.
I put the pork in my large clay baking dish. At first I was simply going to cover and bake gently for a few hours. As I mentioned before Pibil foods are usually covered in banana leaves to gently steam. I had none but I did have clean organic hay that I use for cooking sometimes. It works great to add flavor and aroma to all kinds of dishes like these potatoes. So, I soaked a large handful in water and added it on top of the pork. It would be a pain to pick a bunch of hay from the meat after cooking, so I laid a thin cheesecloth between the meat and hay. I covered the baking dish with heavy duty aluminum foil and cooked it in the oven at roughly 300 F for several hours until the meat is tender and flakes easily. This process worked great and I will certainly be baking with hay again with one small change.
While the aroma from the cooked meat, marinade and hay was spectacular I think next time I will put most of the hay in the bottom under the meat. This will ensure more flavor in the sauce and permeating the meat. Traditionally, lightly pickled red onions go with a Cochinita Pibil. This is very easy to make. I blanched red onions in boiling water for a few seconds and tossed them with lemon/lime juice along with a bit of white wine vinegar, orange juice and dried oregano. I had small sweet peppers on hand so I added those in with the onions as well. A few slices of habanero added a good spicy kick. I served the flaked meat on fresh corn tortillas with avocados, sour cream, the pickled onions and crumbled queso fresco.