Since my carnitas recipe was inspired by Mexican cookery, I bring you second pork recipe today that is authentically Mexican in every way except one… it’s pressure cooked instead of being steamed in a pit.

When Mike, the dad behind Dad Cooks Dinner, was running out of time to get dinner ready, he reached for his pressure cooker – digging a pit in his lawn was never really an option.

In his words:

Fonda San Miguel is a restaurant in Austin, Texas that specializes in interior Mexican cuisine. Why interior Mexican? To distinguish it from the frontier Tex-Mex food that surrounds it in Texas. Not that there’s anything wrong with Tex-Mex, but this meal was a whole different experience. I came back determined to make some of the food I ate while I was there.

Cochinita Pibil topped the list. It is a specialty of the Yucatan region, “pit cooked pork”. It is pork shoulder, marinated in scarlet achiote paste, annato seeds and other spices ground up, then mixed with citrus juice. The pork is topped with a cooked salsa, wrapped in banana leaves, and then, traditionally, buried in a pit filled with heated stones.

I got the specialty ingredients, achiote paste and banana leaves, from my local Mexican supermercado. I was not going to dig a pit. First, there is the wife annoyance factor at a hole in the lawn. Second, and more important, a pit is way too much work. Thanks to some poor time management on my part, I didn’t even have time for oven roasting; I had to pressure cook it to get dinner done on time. This wasn’t a problem; the pressure cooker turned out great pibil, deeply flavored with the sweet, sour, earthy achiote.

Pressure Cooker Recipe: Cochinita Pibil (Yucatecan pit cooked pork)
Adapted From: Fonda San Miguel cookbookCook time: 60 minutesEquipment:
Pressure cooker, at least 6 quarts (I love my giant Kuhn Rikon 12-quart pressure cooker, but it is larger than absolutely necessary for this recipe)Ingredients:
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
15 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
Half of a 3.5 ounce package of achiote paste
1/4 cup orange juice (juice of 1 orange)
1/4 cup cider vinegar (or lime juice)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 pounds pork shoulder roast, cut into 1 1/2″ strips (sold at my grocery store as “western ribs”)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup water
Two 10 inch by 24 inch pieces banana leaf (optional)

Saute the salsa: Heat 1 tsp vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sliced onion, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt on the onion, and saute until just starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes to the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Rub the ribs with achiote marinade: Put the achiote paste in a large bowl with the orange juice, cider vinegar and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Using a fork, mash and stir the achiote paste into the liquid until thoroughly mixed. Remove one tablespoon of the achiote marinade and stir it into the simmering tomatoes. Sprinkle the pork strips with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, then add to the bowl with the achiote marinade and toss until the ribs well coated.

Pressure cook the pork: Put 1/2 cup of water into the pressure cooker. Then put one piece of banana leaf in the cooker, and put the second piece in to form a cross. Put the pork in the middle of the banana leaf cross. Put the simmered tomatoes and onions on top of the pork, then fold the banana leaves over the top. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker. Bring the pressure cooker up to high pressure, then lower the heat to maintain that pressure and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow the pressure to come down naturally, 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve the pork: Open up the banana leaves and remove the pork, tomato and onions to a platter. (For a nice presentation, use one of the banana leaves to line the serving platter.) Spoon a couple of ladles of the liquid in the pot over the top of the pork, and serve.

*Can’t find banana leaves? Don’t worry – they are optional. You can wrap the meat in aluminum foil, or just skip them. You can skip the achiote paste as well, if you have to. It will taste great, but it won’t really be cochinita pibil. But, really, to make this recipe, you should search out your local Mexican grocery for those two ingredients.

*In a hurry? Buy pre-mixed achiote marinade, and pre-made tomato salsa.

*Achiote paste stains whatever it touches red. (Ground annato seeds, the base for achiote paste, are used to make red dye.) I try to contain the mess by using a glass or metal bowl to mash the achiote paste, and tossing the ribs in the bowl using tongs. Other options are to wear latex gloves, or live with red fingers for a few days.

*Serve with pickled red onions, refried beans (preferably black beans), mexican crumbling cheese (substitute feta or pecorino romano), and lots of tortillas.

Recipe and Photo Credits Mike Vorbel from Dad Cooks Dinner

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  1. I just made a close version of this dish at the cooking school yesterday, only the meat was grilled in banana leaves on the comal… I added a good dose of Harissa and a few tomatillos for acid. Came out awesome. I love cooking with Achiote!

  2. I’ve been making a Cochinita Pibil his way for some time and it works beautifully.

  3. This was dinner last night. Absolutely fantastic.
    It took a while and a lot of head scratching from both my butcher and me to work out what a “western rib” was. We settled on the pork equivalent of a lamb chump chop. He made some up for me and they worked a treat. Though in hindsight probably just a slab of boneless shoulder would have worked as well. I think pork spare ribs would have been too fatty. I skipped the banana leaves as my local Asian (The Laughing Elephant — love the name) told me they only do them as a special order these days. Too much wastage. Next time. And there will be a next time.
    I Teamed it with Laura’s Firijoles, Mike’s red pickled onions and a Salsa Verde based on this one:
    Though I had to modify it a bit for what ingredients I could get. While Asian is easy here, Mexican decidedly is not.
    I also used store bought yoghurt and tortillas. I really should learn how to make these myself.

    Thank you Laura and Mike.

  4. 45 minutes seems a long time I thought pork took 5 to 8 minutes in a pressure cooker??

    1. Hi Barry and welcome
      There are two reasons this takes quite a bit longer than normal
      1. It uses very large chunks of meat. Normal timing is assuming chops about 3/4″ thick. Pressure cooking depends on the thickness of the ingredient. If you increase the thickness you need to increase the time
      2. Normal timing is to “cooked”. This is to “fall off the bone”. If you can’t cut it with a blunt spoon it’s not cooked yet.

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