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Cochinita Pibil Tacos
Recipe for tacos with cochinita pibil

You can find this recipe at El Restaurante

Cochinita Pibil Taco from Chichen Itza in Los Angeles

Recipe from Sabores Yucatecos: A Culinary Tour of the Yucatán, by Gilberto Cetina, Katarine A. Diaz, and Gilberto Cetina, Jr. and reprinted in L.A. Mexicano by Bill Esparza (2016, Prospect Park Books)


Yucatán’s signature dish is steeped in traditionas well as chiles and spices. Pibil (which means “buried” in Mayan) refers to the peninsula’s pit style of cooking meats marinated in achiote paste, or recados—in this case, a red recado. If you’ve visited Mexico City’s best restaurants, you’ll have seen chefs using recados. And you see them at L.A.’s Yucatán places, too. The habanero pepper is an essential flavor in this regional cuisine, and while you may think it to be too hot, using it as a chaser with controlled bites is the best way to moderate the burn. Don’t worry, if you do get stung, the habanero’s bite is fast and furious but dissipates quickly—and the best cure is another bite of your taco de cochinita pibil. (Bill Esparza, L.A. Mexicano, Prospect Park Books, 2016)


Makes 8 to 10 servings


2 ½  T. Recado Rojo (recipe follows)

1 ½  c. bitter orange juice or lime juice

1 T. sea salt

5 lbs. pork (loin, butt, cushion, or boneless shoulder), cut into large pieces

Banana leaves

2 dozen corn tortillas

Pickled onions (recipe follows)

5 habanero chiles (optional), sliced into rings


Combine the Recado Rojo, citrus juice, and salt in a large, nonreactive bowl and stir to blend. Add the pork and rub the mixture all over the meat. Set aside in the refrigerator to marinate for about 4 hours, or overnight.

     Preheat the oven to 350° F. Pass the banana leaves over the flame of a burner, being careful not to burn or tear them, until they are soft and pliable. Line a Dutch oven or casserole with the leaves, overlapping them to cover the bottom and sides. Place the pork atop the leaves, pour over remaining marinade, and fold the leaves inward to completely cover the pork. Cover and seal the baking dish with heavy aluminum foil.

     Roast until pork is tender to the point of falling apart with a fork, 3½ to 4 hours. When it is cool enough to handle but still warm, shred meat with a pair of forks or by hand.

    Heat tortillas on a comal, griddle, or electric skillet and wrap them in a towel or place them in a tortilla basket to keep them warm. Place a warmed tortilla in your hand and spoon in about 2 heaping tablespoons of the cochinita pibil. Top with pickled onions and, if you like, as much of the habaneros as you can tolerate—or put the chile slices on a plate and do it the Yucatán way, by taking a bite of your taco and chasing it with a small bite of habanero.


The Recado Rojo (Achiote Paste)

Makes 1 cup

You can use this marinade on other meats—there’s a reason it’s a “mother paste” of Yucatecan cooking.


½ c. ground annatto seeds, toasted

1 T. ground white pepper

¼ c. sea salt

1 T. garlic powder

Pinch of ground cloves

Pinch of ground allspice

Pinch of oregano

¼ c. white vinegar

¼ c. water


Place all the ingredients into a nonreactive bowl and stir until the marinade is well blended. Store it in a sealed container in a cool, dry place until needed. It will keep for a long time.


The Pickled Onions

1 medium red onion, chopped

¾ c. white wine vinegar

¾ c. water

1 ¼ t. sea salt

Place onion in a large bowl and add vinegar, water, and salt. Chopped onion should be completely covered with the mixture; if it’s not, add a little more. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for at least 15 minutes in the refrigerator. This will keep up to 2 weeks in the fridge.