We made it to Albuquerque just in time, on the eve of Cinco de Mayo. We are among foodies! And I am so happy to be out of the car, 5,300 feet high in the shadows of the Sandias! After three straight days on the road and a steep rise in elevation, I still had a spacy head when our Saturday celebration began at El Mezquite Market. Acres of food, everything imaginable for the Mexican table. Plus lunch: four massive, greasy, tasty tacos (stand in line and point to your choice of meat fillings in a vast array of trays) for $4.99. Take your plate to the indoor picnic table and indulge.
But we had to save room for dinner. Tom was cooking. He had it all planned, a cochinita pibil (pit-roasted pork) marinated and wrapped in banana leaves. There was serious talk of digging a pit in the backyard just for this dish, but in the end the chef opted for the oven, and the result was divine. The recipe stems from Daniel Hoyer’s Culinary Mexico, with a few twists Ã la Tom. Here’s how it worked:
Cochinita Pibil (pit-roasted pork)
1 medium boneless pork butt or arm roast, trimmed but with some fat remaining
3 ounces achiote paste
12 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons allspice berries, toasted and cracked*
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano, toasted*
1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and crushed*
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper*
4 bay leaves, toasted*
2 tablespoons sea salt*
3 ounces tequilla
Juice of 3 limes
Juice of 1 orange
Â¼ cup vinegar (apple cider)
3 fresh habanero peppers, stems and seeds removed (do not remove if you want higher heat)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 package frozen banana leaves (to wrap pork)
* ground together in a matate
Make several cuts on the fat side of the pork so the marinade can penetrate the meat. Place in a freezer bag.
Mix all the other ingredients except the banana leaves in a blender or food processor. Pour over the pork, seal bag, mix well and marinate (preferably 2 hours or more) in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Thaw and rinse frozen banana leaves well in cool water. Tear eight Â½-inch-wide strips off one leaf and tie two together to make four strips to use later for ties (or use string). Toast the banana leaves. Line the bottom of a heavy roasting pan with 2 or 3 of the leaves so they overlap the pan on all sides.
Remove pork from the bag and reserve the marinade. Place pork fat side up on banana leaves and pour the marinade over the meat. Place more leaves over the pork and fit ends inside the bottom leaves. Pull bottom leaves around the meat and tie strips of banana leaves around this package from both directions to secure.
Bake at 325 degrees for 3 Â½ to 4 hours until meat is fork tender. Leaves will be darkened on the outside when finished. Allow to rest for 20 minutes. Slit the leaves with a sharp knife or scissors and remove the meat and marinade. In large bowl, shred pork and mix well with leftover marinade.
Serve with fresh corn tortillas and condiments of your choice. We gorged ourselves on pickled red onions, crumbled Mexican cheese (queso cotija or fresco), homemade grilled tomatoes salsa** and tomatillo salsa***, lime wedges, chopped green onion, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro and my favorite food of the month: ensalada de nopalitos (cactus salad)…. More on that another day.
**Grilled roma tomatoes, onions and jalapenos blended. Add salt, lime juice, and cilantro; mix well.
***Pan-seared tomatillos, lightly browned white Mayan onions (yellow onion) and grilled jalapeno blended. Add salt, lime, cilantro and chopped avocado (if desired); mix well.