The Book: Mayan Cuisine – Recipes from the Yucatán Region (2008, Gibbs Smith, Publisher)
Mole might be hailed as Mexico’s national dish, but if you appointed me to name the food that epitomizes the richness and ingenuity of Mexican cuisine (and its cooks), I would have to pick cochinita pibil. Spicy, tangy, complex and a tiny bit sweet, cochinita pibil (literally, “pit-roasted little pig”) starts out as a humble pork butt and finishes as nirvana on a tortilla.
So how psyched was I to find Daniel Hoyer’s recipe for this sweet little piggy on Pages 126–127 of his Yucatan book?! So much so that I have already made it twice.
Topped with cebollas moradas encurtidas (pickled red onions), chopped fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime, cochinita also is a crisp, refreshing summer treat—if you can endure the hours it takes in the oven for its metamorphosis. Unless, of course, you have a yard big enough to dig a roasting hole.
The recipe is not complicated, but it does take time. There is red sauce to be made (uncooked, but plenty of ingredients), then pork to be marinated. And to serve the dish in its full, traditional glory, you’ll need to pickle red onions. (Pink and sweet-tart-spicy, they are well worth making in their own right—especially while farmers’ markets still have “spring” onions— and delicious on just about everything. The vegetarians at book club pronounced them perfect for their non-pork tacos of queso fundido and refried beans.)
For my take on this recipe, I have simplified the sauce (eschewing making a separate red paste, part of which ends up in the red sauce, and just bumping up those ingredients in the marinating liquid). And, as my local bodegas do not stock banana leaves (what?), I default to my Le Crueset for cooking with no discernable difference in taste.
This makes enough for a party, if you feel like sharing, or terrific leftovers if you are celebrating by yourself. The recipe is definitely now part of my rotation for festive meals with friends–at any time of the year.