Thursday, May 28, 2009

In the kitchen: Wild hog cochinita pibil

Well, that didn't take long.

School hadn't been out more than a couple of days when Boyfriend stepped into my little home office last week and asked a rhetorical question: "Wanna cook something with that pork shoulder?"

Yeah, I don't do much cooking. I used to cook a lot, but with a boyfriend who runs two food blogs, the kitchen pretty much belongs to him. I've actually developed learned helplessness in the kitchen - when he doesn't feed me, all I can think to do is eat peanut butter straight out of the jar.

So every summer, when I suddenly have lots of leisure time, he tries to lure me back into the kitchen. And this time, the bait was good. Read more...
When I went hunting with Phillip the weekend before last, I didn't get a pig. But far be it from Phillip to send me home empty-handed: I came home with some backstrap, the heart, the liver and both shoulders from the pig he killed.

Mmmmmm. Pork shoulder.

When anyone says the words "pork shoulder" to me, one thing instantly comes to mind: cochinita pibil. It's a lovely dish from the Yucatan region of Mexico - slow-cooked pork in a tangy - but not spicy - sauce of citrus juice and achiote, or annato. It can drive you to eat way more than you should.

If you've seen the movie "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," you may remember that cochinita pibil is the dish Johnny Depp's character would seek all over the country, and whenever he found someone who cooked it too well, he'd kill the cook. You know, to bring balance back to the country.

But this would be tricky. One of the things that makes cochinita pibil so good is the enormous amount of fat you find in domestic pork shoulder. That's something you don't find in a wild hog.

"Do we have any lard?" I asked Boyfriend.


Actually, we had a half-empty bucket of two-year-old store-bought lard, but that stuff is hydrogenated and nasty for your heart, so I didn't even consider it.

Aw, hell, I'd have to improvise.

The good news is the thought I put into improvising was about the hardest part of making this dish. While it takes a long time from start to finish - 6 hours - half of that is marinating time and half of that is baking time. Give or take a few minutes of prep.

When it was finally done, it came out pretty well. Click on the photo above if you want to see the details.

I won't lie - I think a half-pound of lard would've made it better, because I like my meat ridiculously juicy. But Boyfriend liked it just the way it was.

And it was all the better because it wasn't made with some grocery-store mystery meat - I knew exactly where this pork came from.

Recipe: Wild Hog Cochinita Pibil
Adapted from Mexican Border Flavors: The Beautiful Cookbook

4 lb. wild hog pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
4-3 oz. achiote paste (see below for where to buy)
1 c. fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. canola oil (or 1/3 to 1/2 pound cubed fatback)

Place cut pork shoulder into a non-metal dish. If using fatback to supplement lean pork, place this in the dish as well. If using domestic pork, there's no need to add fat!

Combine orange juice, lime juice, achiote paste and salt in a blender. If using canola oil, add oil as well.

Pour mixture over the pork shoulder, cover and marinate for at least three hours, if not overnight.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Line a casserole dish with enough foil form a packet that completely seals the meat during cooking. (I could go into greater detail here, but then I'd embarrass myself by displaying my Germanic-Virgo-anal retentive tendencies to the world. My packets are beautiful and airtight. You? Just make whatever packet makes you happy.)

Add the meat and marinade, seal and place in the oven. Check for doneness after 2 hours - it may take as much as 3 hours to become tender.

When done, remove the dish from the oven. If you like, shred the meat for a pulled pork effect. Serve over rice and garnish with onions. Or cilantro. Or whatever you like to garnish things with.

Boyfriend wanted to top it with queso seco - a crumbly, dry Mexican cheese - to counteract the acidity of the dish. I thought that was blasphemy.

Whatever you put on top, though, prepare for gluttony.

Achiote paste

Achiote paste
Achiote paste is a mixture of annato seed (which provides the intense red color), cornmeal, flour, vinegar, garlic and other spices.

If you live anyplace that has a sizable population of Mexican immigrants, you probably have a Mexican market where you can find it. If you don't, you can order it through - for real!

Just be prepared: People will take one look at the brilliant red sauce it produces and think they're in for something hotter than blazes. But there isn't even a shred of chili in this paste, or anywhere in this dish. All you'll get is savory, tangy goodness.

If you try it out, let me know how you like it!

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Phillip said...

Damn, Holly! That sounds awesome!

I love the REAL Mexican dishes, like this. If I'd known you were gonna make something like this, I would have attached conditions to that shoulder (not really, of course, but it sounds good).

I'll have to give this recipe a go sometime.

SimplyOutdoors said...

That does sound like one great dish. I only wish I had a cook like boyfriend hanging around. My wife and I can manage, but we certainly aren't professionals at it.

There is nothing like preparing food, and knowing exactly how it was handled before preparation.


Holly Heyser said...

Cochinita pibil is so easy! Normally when I have a six hour recipe I'm busy for six hours, but this is total lounging food. And it makes the house smell niiiiice.

Phillip, perhaps I should make some for our next pig hunt and you can heat it up on that nice little stove of yours for dinner. Have tortillas instead of rice and you've got a meal. Goes GREAT with tequila too. Very hearty - totally what you need after a day of chasing pigs.

And Simply, I think you're too far away to cook for, but really, this is a piece of cake. The only thing you can do wrong is skimp on fat.

Blessed said...

This looks good Holly! Thanks for the recipe. Now... guess I have to go find a domesticated pig shoulder to buy since there aren't many wild pigs in my neck of the woods and if I waited for one of those I'd be waiting for a looonnnggg time. The good news is that we're getting more and more options for properly raised meat around here!

Marian Ann Love said...

I'll have to give this recipe a try Holly...Rex gave us some hog meat back the last weekend of Feb and first of March when we went for a hog hunt. Saw a huge black hog run by our deer stand that my husband and I were in but could not get a good shot on it. Six hogs were harvested over the weekend. Had plenty of meat to share. Glad you enjoyed your hog hunt. It's so much fun! Hopefully, I will get a hog one day! That would be so cool! :)

The Hunter's Wife said...

Looks and sounds really good and easy enough to cook. I might have to give this one a try.

Albert A Rasch said...

"I could go into greater detail here, but then I'd embarrass myself by displaying my Germanic-Virgo-anal retentive tendencies to the world."

Did I ever mention that it is important to measure the concentricty of the cartridges you use for hunting. First you need a fine point magic marker and small handheld mirror, then...

Best regards,
We build a Pirogue!

Holly Heyser said...

Albert, you are so luck you live 2,972.3 miles away!

mdmnm said...

The dvd of "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" features a cooking class put on by Robert Rodriguez in which he gives his cochinita pibil recipe. It works pretty well, too.

HK_USP_45 said...

OK, I tried it last Friday, and it was DELICIOUS! My wife says it is competing with my Swiss Steak as her favorite dish that I cook.

I had to improvise slightly, since I didn't have the achiote rojo paste. I had to use Mole paste (not the rodent, but the e has an accent). I have since purchased the Achiote paste from amazon, and this thursday I will cook it exactly as your recipe.

It was delicious with the mole paste, though. I'm not sure what the difference is, but will find out in a couple of days.

Holly Heyser said...


Mole and achiote are radically different, but I love mole with wild game (made a wild duck mole a few weeks ago - divine).

And I'm really intrigued by the fact that you were able to combine mole and orange juice successfully - something I'd've never thought to do. But mole is so heavy (LOTS of lard) that I could see the OJ would cut it nicely.

Glad you had a great dinner!

HK_USP_45 said...

I received the achiote paste from amazon and remade the dish using the recipe as you provided -- delicious! You're right, the achiote and mole are totally different. I hate to say it, but I think using your exact recipe, except using the Mole instead of the achiote, might be slightly better. Like on a scale of 1-10, the achiote is a 10, and the mole is a 10.5. Try it and tell me what you think. Either way is killer, though.

The orange juice went well with the mole, I thought. But what really sets it off is the lime juice. And I use some organic type stuff made from key-limes down in florida.

I think one difference though is also the difference in the meats I used. I don't have wild hog here, so mine were store purchased. The shoulder roast I used for the achiote was a high-grade cut of perfectly lean white meat. The mole was from a family farm and was darker and less perfect. (not sure what cut it was, only that it was labeled pork roast). The family farm pork had much better flavor to it, and I think that made a huge difference in the dish. I'm sure the other stuff was healthier, though.

I wish we had wild hog up there though. I loved wild hog when I lived in FL.