Monday, February 27, 2012

Puerco Pibil: A (De)composition

Cooking is creative, right? It’s constructive. You make something.

Making pibil is more like artfully destroying a pork shoulder most, but not all, of the way. First you besmirch it. Then you cook it nearly to death. You tear it down, shred by shred, with your bare hands; and then you reassemble it into a little package its mother would never recognize.

Puerco Pibil
Achiote is something you can make, or get in a Latin grocery store, or find onlines, of course, where you can find every single thing ever.

1 pork shoulder roast, 4-5 lb.
1 block of achiote
½ c of bitter orange juice, or of this bitter orange marinade stuff I found in the neighborhood Latin grocery; or ¼ c lemon juice plus ¼ c orange juice
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and chopped
2 habanero chiles, seeded and chopped
1 large onion
Salt to taste
Pickled onions, mixed pickles, or lime wedges

First, you have to unmake the block of achiote. Soak it in the juice until you can stir it into a paste. This might take awhile, i.e. hours. I gave up too soon and put the brick-hard achiote in my food processor with the juice. This caused the processor to jump all over the counter, spitting achiote across the kitchen. (The stuff stains. It’s really yellow.)

But when you do succeed at making a creamy paste, then pulverize the garlic and chiles and achiote in the food processor until things are fairly smooth.

Smear the achiote paste all over the pork shoulder and wrap it up tightly in plastic or foil. Watch out for your hands, because the habanero is kind of hot. Like 350,000 Scoville units, so be careful. Also, wear an apron, as you will have another opportunity to splatter achiote paste all over yourself. (It’s like my high school physics teacher used to say: “Entropy happens.”) Marinate overnight.

The next morning, if you are going off to work, slice up the onion and put it in the bottom of the crock pot. Set the roast on top, put the crock pot on low, and go away for 10 hours.
 I poured in a half cup of water and crimped a piece of aluminum foil around the lid to make a tighter seal. (If I were going to be home, I would have roasted the pork at 250° or 300° for 4-6 hours. Damn, that would have been even better.)
After. Whoa. I should have expected this, but I did not see it coming.

Holy crap! All the juice fell out of the roast while it was cooking. Lift the pork and the onion out of the pan juice. When it is cool enough to touch, pull the pork off the bone and shred it with your hands.
How do you like me now?
How 'bout now?

Now that the roast is totally dissembled, turn to the pan juices. Spoon off the fat and cook the juice down until reduced to about a cup. Pour this all over the shredded pork and onion. Salt to taste.
Now this is the original hot mess.

Heat up tortillas and make tacos. Put a few pickled vegetables or a squeeze of lime on the taco. Something sour will help cut the richness of the pork and highlight its flavor.

Congratulations: your food has been deconstructed and reassembled, like, four or five times.


  1. So, how spicy was this, what with the habaneros and all? I have some delicate flowers in my household. >:-(

  2. Hey, Amy -

    This dish is not supposed to be all that spicy--and I did not find it so, seeing as the peppers are seeded and diluted through 4 pounds of pork. It pays to be careful when handling chiles, though, and habaneros are among the hottest.

    Next time I would add another chile or two, but no one has ever accused me of being a subtle cook.

  3. mmmmm! Sounds great. Is it okay if I "Pin" this on Pinterest?


  4. Hi, Pamela -

    Thanks for asking; I appreciated it. Post all the links you like all over the place, but my content belongs to me.

  5. Thanks! I can guarantee I'll include the credits, but I can't guarantee the re-pinners will. Keep up the good work! I enjoy your blog and your recipes.

  6. Pamela S, I fear I've been misunderstood. Let me try again:

    No. Please do not repost my content.

  7. You're right. I did misunderstand. But, no harm, I haven't pinned you yet and I won't.

  8. Pamela S, thank youuuuuuuuuu! I appreciate it.


Thanks for your comments - nothing scatological, please. If you wouldn't bring it in the kitchen, please don't say it here.