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Homage to the Taco Chronicles – The Series – Tacos de Cochinita Pibil

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    Homage to the Taco Chronicles – The Series – Tacos de Cochinita Pibil

    Homage to the Taco Chronicles – The Series – Tacos de Cochinita Pibil

    In the last segment of my series, I introduced Barbacoa, which by all accounts is not only a recipe but a cooking method that dates back to man’s early appearance in North America. It’s a cooking style that utilizes earthen pits that act like ovens to roast or braise various proteins. For further background information on this style of cooking, see my write-up on Barbacoa here.

    The Mayans in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, like others throughout the region, also utilized this ancient technique to roast various wild game. When the Spanish introduced the pig to North America, they probably introduced a combination of the Celtic, Iberico and Asian breeds. Since the Yucatan is a remote region, these animals eventually evolved into their own unique breed able to adapt to the rocky jungles and the intense heat within that remote environment. Thus their genetic heritage has been well preserved not only by the Mayans but also by their ancestors in Mexico today.

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    Therefore, the protein most coveted in the Yucatan can be traced back to this breed of pig. The Mexican hairless pig, smaller in stature then the American commodity pig, is allowed to graze on various forms of vegetation and grains (like corn) supplemented by tropical fruits like guava and mangos. They develop intense flavor and are low in fat. Simply known as Cochinita (Spanish for little pig or piglet) this hairless breed is indeed Yucatan’s most coveted domesticated animal. And the classic method of cooking was and is within earthen ovens (or pibs). Thus the dish presented in this series, most often served in a tortilla, is Cochinita Pibil, or pork cooked within an earthen oven.

    Unfortunately, I was not able to source the Mexican pork classically used in this recipe but I did substitute Berkshire pork, a premium breed. The process of cooking involves several steps that take time. This is a day and a half process that involves 24 hours of marinating along with a low and slow cooking time to fully render the fat and connective tissues. And as with the Barbacoa cook, I tried to be as true to the ancient cooking style as I could, utilizing banana or plantain leaves to wrap the meat allowing it to braise without drying out. Where I departed, holding true to my low and slow smoking roots, was with the introduction of Applewood smoke to the cook within my Weber 26” kettle.

    The net result was a spicy and tart Mexican style pulled pork. Classically served on either corn or flour tortillas, it’s simply garnished with pickled red onions and a salsa of choice. Dripping with the braising liquid and salsa, these are messy good and unique versus most of the beefy style tacos I’ve cooked thus far. If you like pulled pork, these tacos have the same melt in your mouth tenderness that’s accompanied by a spicy flavor finish. Give them a try!!

    Tacos de Cochinita Pibil

    Course. Lunch or Dinner.
    Cuisine. Mexican
    Makes. 4 to 6 servings
    Takes. 60 minutes prep, 24 hours to marinade, 5-6 hours to roast/smoke

    Ingredients – Meat & Marinade

    4 pounds boneless pork shoulder (try to source Berkshire or Duroc breeds)
    1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
    3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
    2 sticks achiote paste (3-4 tablespoons)
    2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
    4 whole cloves
    3 inch stick Ceylon or Canela cinnamon
    2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/4 cup white vinegar
    1 tablespoon light soy sauce
    1 tablespoon Kosher salt
    4-5 whole banana leaves
    Lasagna size foil pan

    Ingredients – For Tacos Presentation

    10-12 – corn OR flour tortillas
    Troutman’s Salsa Rojo (see Barbacoa post)
    Chopped pickled red onions
    Lime wedges

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    Directions – Marinade & Meat Prep
    1. Cut the whole head of garlic in half about its center. Lay both halves upward onto a piece of folded aluminum foil, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and place under a hot broiler. Check often to make sure they don’t burn. After about 3-4 minutes they should be browned and slightly seared on top. Remove, set aside to cool. Once cooled the individual garlic cloves should squeeze out of their paper holder, soft and somewhat mushy. Give them a rough chop and set aside.
    2. Next squeeze the orange and lime juices and add to a blender. To that add the oregano, cloves, peppercorn, cumin, vinegar, soy, salt and chopped garlic. Chop the achiote paste into small chunks and add to the blender. Break apart the cinnamon stick into small pieces and add that to the blender as well. Blend all on medium high making sure all the ingredients are well incorporated.
    3. Cut your pork shoulder into one inch slices giving you about 6-8 small steak. Trim any excess fat around the edges and place into a flat pan. Do not stack the steaks rather be sure to lay them flat. To that add all of the marinade from the blender. Work the marinade into each of the steaks, cover the pan with foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.
    4. Next take the banana leaves and place them into a foil pan in two directions. Place each of the marinated steaks into the lined pan and pour all of the marinade over the steaks to act as a braising liquid. Carefully fold the banana leaves over the top sealing in the meat and the sauce. Use one or two additional leaves as a final cover, they will tend to dry out and burn and can be removed during cooking. An optional method would be to loosely cover the leaves with a layer of foil to prevent burning.
    5. Fire up your outdoor smoker or kettle with charcoal and some wood chunks (fruitwood is an ideal choice). Pre-heat the smoker to 250-275*F and place the covered pan of meat onto the grill on the offset cool side. If using a foil cover, allow the corners to remain open to give the smoke a chance to permeate.
    6. After about an hour and a half check your cook. I find the banana leaves begin to burn up and expose the meat, cover with foil. At that point the smoke has infused the meat. If using a loose foil cover in the first place, just tightly cover. Continue to cook for about another four and a half hours, checking to see if the meat is fully rendered and falling apart tender.

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    7. Once the meat is cooked and rested, pull the meat apart and place in a serving vessel. Cover the pulled meat with several tablespoons of the marinade for added moisture and flavor. Preserve the remaining consume if desired to be served on the side.
    8. Serve as build your own tacos with warmed tortillas, pickled onions and salsa of your choice. Enjoy!

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    Thanks again for taking the time to continue reading my series. I hope those who have never had real Mexican tacos will take the time to cook some for friends and family.

    For those interested in following or have missed any of my Taco Chronicles series, here are links to previous offerings;

    Tacos de Guisado
    Tacos al Pescado
    Tacos de Chivo Birria
    Tacos al Pastor
    Tacos al Carbon
    Tacos de Barbacoa de Res

    Next up is currently undecided. I'm researching a couple more but would also invite any suggestions. Until then, as always, Trout is Out !!

    “This is what defines Mexico….a Good Taco”

    That looks great! But where’s the pic of you in a grass skirt eating tacos?


    • Troutman
      Troutman commented
      Editing a comment
      This is Mexican cooking not Polynesian. But hey, give me enough of Uncle Bob 's good bourbon and I'll probably volunteer to dance !!!

    • Uncle Bob
      Uncle Bob commented
      Editing a comment
      Don't believe @Panhead John...........he is weird. But it got worse when he started tucking dollar bills in Troutman 's shorts..........................ewwwww!

    • Panhead John
      Panhead John commented
      Editing a comment
      He was such a good dancer I even slipped a five in there.

    We have a cat that sleeps in my shop at night. When I get him in the morning he walks down the workbench to meet me halfway and I can hear him purr from across the room. I scoop him up like a baby and hold him with his head on my shoulder, stroking his fur telling him good morning and what a sweet boy he is. His purr rumbles through my chest and there soon develops a nice little spot of cat slobber on my shoulder. Yeah, I think he likes me, and I'm pretty sure that's exactly how I'm going to act while eating these tacos!!!
    Last edited by CaptainMike; June 15, 2021, 12:40 PM.


    • Panhead John
      Panhead John commented
      Editing a comment
      You really should have been a writer for Bon Appetit.
      Last edited by Panhead John; June 14, 2021, 03:49 PM.

    Looks great, once again! I think I had one of each of these yesterday minus the birria. Loved them all! You hit this one out again.

    as for the next taco in your series - Tacos de Canasta! If you are planning a gathering soon, would be a fun way to continue this series! Aren’t you having a meet up in Texas again, or did those pass already?

    either way, I enjoy these! Hope you find a few more varieties.


    • Troutman
      Troutman commented
      Editing a comment
      Canasta (tacos in a basket) has been on the list. Not too exciting but well liked in Mexico. May re-visit, thanks for the support and ideas.



      Smoked Queso Fundido con Chorizo! Tacos Dorados de Machaca! Tacos de Criadillas! Tacos de Tripitas! Tacos de Carnitas!


      • Troutman
        Troutman commented
        Editing a comment
        Carnitas are on the menu for sure. Tripitas probably won't garnish much interest but I've had it and not too bad. Criadillas (bulls balls), well, no comment there either How about lingua instead?

        Thanks for the support and the ideas.

      Here's an idea if you want to start a taco truck

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      • Troutman
        Troutman commented
        Editing a comment
        I especially am in the market for "Mayan virgins" !!!!

      Here’s an idea, although I don’t know how accessible this is as I just learned about it - huitlacoche tacos or Flor de Calabaza. Just learned of these from a friend who is from Mexico City. Two of her favorite styles of tacos.


      • Troutman
        Troutman commented
        Editing a comment
        I've heard of squash blossom quesadillas but not tacos. No idea what the other one is but I'll check it out, thanks !! As I mentioned I'm going to take a bit of a break from tacos and concentrate on other favorites. Tacos will always be on the menu however !!!

      I made this yesterday, every bit as purr-and-slobber-worthy as I imagined!


      • Troutman
        Troutman commented
        Editing a comment
        Very cool Mike. I had left overs myself that I found in the fridge last night and enjoyed them once more. Needed half a roll of paper towels to clean up 😂

      • CaptainMike
        CaptainMike commented
        Editing a comment
        I bet they just get better with a little time. I think this recipe would work well chicken B&S chicken thighs as well.
        Last edited by CaptainMike; June 19, 2021, 11:25 AM.

      • Troutman
        Troutman commented
        Editing a comment
        Actually I prefer the more robust adobo sauce I did for barbacoa. I’m thinking some different proteins may go well with it too.


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