Serves 12 to 15
- 5 tablespoons (about 2 ounces) achiote seeds
- 1 ½ tablespoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
- 1 ½ tablespoons black pepper, preferably whole
- 1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela that’s freshly ground or still in stick form (you’ll need about 6 inches of ½-inch diameter cinnamon stick)
- 1 ¼ teaspoons cumin, preferably whole
- ½ teaspoon cloves, preferably whole
- 14 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 ½ cups fresh sour orange juice OR 1 cup fresh lime juice plus ½ cup fresh orange juice
- 2 bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt) roasts (12 to 14 pounds total), cut into 3-inch wide cross sections (unless you have a meat saw, you’ll need to get a butcher to do this for you)
- A 1-pound package banana leaves, defrosted
Pickled red onions:
- 3 large (about 1 ½ pounds total) red onions, sliced 1/8 inch thick
- 2 cups fresh sour orange juice OR 1 1/3 cups fresh lime juice plus 2/3 cup fresh orange juice
- Frontera Roasted Habanero Salsa, for serving
- The achiote marinade. Into a spice grinder, measure the achiote seeds and oregano, adding black pepper, cinnamon, cumin and cloves, if any of the latter is in whole form. Run the grinder until everything’s as powdery as you can get it. In a blender, combine the ground mixture with 1 tablespoon salt, the garlic and the 1 ½ cups sour orange (or 1 cup lime juice plus ½ cup orange juice). Blend until smooth—there should be very little grittiness when a little is rubbed between your fingers. If you’re working ahead, pour the mixture into a non-aluminum container, cover, refrigerate 6 hours or longer, then reblend the mixture to give it an even smoother texture. (The long steeping and second blending isn’t absolutely essential, though without it the marinade may be a little gritty.)
- Marinating the meat. In a large bowl or large plastic food bag combine meat and marinade, turning the meat to coat it evenly. (Though achiote has tenacious coloring properties, I suggest you do this quickly with your hands.) For the greatest penetration of flavor, let the meat marinate refrigerated (covered if in a bowl) for several hours—or overnight.
- Slow-grilling the pork. Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn just until the coals are covered with gray ash. Using scissors, cut off the hard edge you’ll find on most banana leaves (where the leaf attached to the central rib). Cut 3 sections of banana leaf, each about 1 foot longer than the length of a large roasting pan. Line the bottom and sides of the roasting pan with the leaves, overlapping them generously and letting them hang over the edges of the pan. Lay the meat in the pan, drizzle with all the marinade. Fold in the banana leaf edges over the meat. Cut 3 sections of banana leaf slightly longer than the pan. Lay them over the top of the meat, again generously overlapping; tuck them in around the sides. When the grill is ready, either turn the burner(s) in the center to medium-low or bank the coals of the grill for indirect cooking. For the charcoal grill, set the grill grate in place. Set the pan on the grill and close the grill cover. Grill until the meat is thoroughly tender (work a fork in near the bone—the meat should easily come free), usually about 4 hours. To maintain an even temperature with charcoal, add more charcoal regularly (usually a few pieces every half hour or so).
- Simple pickled onions. While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions. Scoop the sliced onions into a non-aluminum bowl. Pour boiling water over them, wait 10 seconds, then pour the onions into a strainer. Return onions to the bowl, pour on the 2 cups sour orange juice (or the lime-orange combo) and stir in 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Set aside until serving time.
- Serving. Drain the red onions and set out in a serving bowl. Remove the top banana leaves from the roasting pan. Tip the pan to accumulate the juices in one end. Spoon off most of the rendered fat. Taste the juices and season with additional salt if you think necessary. You may want to remove the bones and cut the large pieces of meat into manageable serving sizes. But I suggest you leave everything right in the roasting pan for serving. Set out your cochinita pibil with a large fork and spoon (for spooning up all those juices), place pickled onions nearby to top each portion, along with the salsa to cautiously dab on each portion.
Working Ahead: If you’re the plan-ahead type, make the marinade on day one, reblend it and marinate the meat on day two, then slow-roast the meat for serving on day three. The finished marinade will hold for a week or more in the refrigerator. Once the pork is marinated, cook it within 24 hours. The finished dish will keep for a couple of days, covered and refrigerated (meat and juice only—no banana leaves), though the texture of the meat won’t be quite as nice as fresh-from-the-oven. Warm refrigerated, cooked meat slowly (300º) in the juice, covered. Pickled onions will keep for a week or so in the refrigerator, well covered.
Variation: The pork can be baked in a 325º degree oven instead of on the grill; cover the meat rather loosely with foil before baking.