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Milk Street Bowtie Dutch Oven Cochinita Pibil Tacos

Dutch Oven Cochinita Pibil Tacos

6 to 8 Servings

3¾ hours 50 minutes active

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From the Mexican state of Yucatán on the Gulf of Mexico, cochinita pibil, in its most traditional form, is suckling pig (cochinita) that has been marinated in the juice of sour oranges and annatto, wrapped in banana leaves and slow-roasted in an underground pit (pib). The fork-tender meat is shredded and served with pickled red onions that offer a sharp, tangy contrast that offsets the richness of the pork. There are many simplified modern takes on the dish, including the pressure-cooked version that Jorge Fritz and Beto Estúa, proprietors of Casa Jacaranda cooking school in Mexico City, showed us how to make. This recipe is our Dutch oven-braised adaptation of theirs. Annatto (also called achiote) is a key ingredient in cochinita pibil; it’s the source of the dish’s characteristic red-orange hue. Despite its bold, vivid color, annatto is quite subdued in flavor, with hints of earthiness and pepper. We use achiote paste, which is made with ground annatto seeds plus other seasonings, all compressed into a small brick. Look for achiote paste, typically sold in small blocks, in the international section of the supermarket or in Latin American grocery stores. If not available, a substitute can be made by stirring together ¼ cup sweet paprika, 1½ teaspoons ground cumin, ½ teaspoon granulated garlic, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and 3 tablespoons white vinegar to form a stiff paste. Use in place of the paste called for in the recipe. We sought a substitute for the avocado leaves that Fritz and Estúa blended into the flavor base for their cochinita pibil. We discovered that fennel seeds nicely mimic the leaves’ anise-like nuances. Sour oranges, a common ingredient in Yucatecan cooking, are hard to come by in the U.S., so instead we juice regular oranges, but add a couple tablespoons of lime juice for tartness, stirring it in at the very end to preserve its brightness and acidity.

6 to 8

Servings

Tip

Don’t discard the fat that you skim off the cooking liquid after removing the pork. You will need 3 tablespoons of it for sautéing the onion and browning the shredded pork to finish the dish.

3¾ hours

50 minutes active

4-pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1½- to 2-inch chunks
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 habanero chilies, stemmed and seeded, divided
2 medium red onions, halved and thinly sliced
6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably mexican oregano
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1 3/4 ounces achiote paste (⅓ cup grated on the small holes of a box grater; see headnote)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
Pickled red onions, to serve
24 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
Ingredients
  • 4-pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1½- to 2-inch chunks

  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  • 2

    habanero chilies, stemmed and seeded, divided

  • 2

    medium red onions, halved and thinly sliced

  • 6

    medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

  • 1

    tablespoon fennel seeds

  • 2

    teaspoons dried oregano, preferably mexican oregano

  • cups orange juice

  • ounces achiote paste (⅓ cup grated on the small holes of a box grater; see headnote)

  • ¼

    cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 2

    tablespoons lime juice

  • Pickled red onions, to serve

  • 24

    (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed

Salsas

Recipe

Salsa Macha

Directions

Dutch Oven Cochinita Pibil Tacos

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Reviews
Jennifer B.
September 18, 2022
Five stars doe Dutch oven version.
Very tasty and security dish. A little bit fussy, but well worth the wait. I just used a bone-in pork butt and it worked perfectly. I always think bone-in is better.
david h.

Can I substitute pork loin?

Lynn C.

Hi David -

A pork shoulder, which is the cut of pork this recipe calls for, is cut from the shoulder of the pig and has tons of connective tissue and fat. This connective tissue starts to break down into gelatin when it gets above 160 degrees so, by the time it reaches 195, the meat will be close to fall-apart tender and shreddable.

A pork loin roast, which is cut from the pig’s back, is leaner and contains less connective tissue and fat. This cut of pork should only be cooked to 140-145 degrees or it will dry out due to that lack of connective tissue and fat. Additionally, the texture of the meat will never be able to be shredded as called for in this recipe. A pork butt (also called Boston butt) would be the only substitution we would consider here.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Diane K.

Could good quality ground pork be substituted? How would that change the preparation?

Lynn C.

Hi Diane -

We do not recommend substituting ground pork for the recipe. As mentioned in the comment above, this recipe calls for pork shoulder, which has tons of connective tissue and fat that melts after low, slow cooking. Ground pork is an entirely different product that generally cooks in minutes, not hours and would not yield the same results.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Keith T.

***** Fantastic! Definitely do the Dutch oven (instead of Instant Pot) if you have the time.