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Author Notes: You know what's great? Cochinita Pibil, that's what. But some of us don't have the wherewithal to acquire and pit-roast an entire pig. We have to come up with ways to do it in the much more convenient and easy-to-clean slow cooker (ever tried to clean a backyard pit? Not easy). The one problem I have with Cochinita Pibil is that it doesn't really have a sweet note to bring out the sweetness of the pork — it's all tartness (from the limes or sour oranges) and fire (from the traditional habanero salsa). So what I wanted to do with this dish is rectify that situation. I cut the tartness by marinating and braising the pork in cider and the traditional achiote. Then, I use the cider, apples and apple cider vinegar to cut the heat of the habanero salsa. Finally, I mix in cooked apples with the traditional pickled red onion topping. Although at first glance this sounds complicated, this is really a very simple dish to make, and it’s a great centerpiece for a family-style dinner party. The only thing you might have to go looking for is the achiote seasoning, but it's readily available in well-stocked grocery stores throughout the West, and in most major cities. If you live in a major (or even minor) city and it's not at your favorite grocery store, I guarantee you have a Mexican market somewhere nearby that stocks it. It looks like a small, dark red brick. Pronounce it like you're sneezing. —Collin
Serves 8 or more
The Pork "Pibil"
- 3 to 3½ pounds bone-in pork shoulder roast
- 1/2 of a 4-oz package of achiote. El Yucateco is the most widely available brand.
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 bottles of hard cider (12 oz.). This has to be able to stand up to the other flavors, so even though I would rather drink the French ciders (like Etienne Dupont) I would save those for the table and use the sweeter Woodpecker or another easily availabl
- 1 large white onion, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
- 1 stick cinnamon
- OPTIONAL 1-pound package frozen banana leaves, defrosted (available in your local Mexican or Asian market). This is absolutely and completely optional, because it doesn't make a whit of difference to the taste but makes a nice presentation
- Corn tortillas. This is NOT optional. Get the best and freshest you can find. Make your own if you know how.
- Before you do anything else, get out a small saucepan and pour 1½ bottles of hard cider into it. Let it simmer while you're getting the rest of your things together. Reduce to 1½ cups. Drink the remaining ½ bottle of cider – it's good for you.
- Put the half package of achiote seasoning in a blender or food processor with the 1/4 cup of lime juice, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 cup of the reduced hard cider. Blend until smooth.
- Using latex gloves (achiote stains something terrible) smear the entire pork roast with the achiote-cider blend. Cover and let marinate for at least 1 hour (or overnight in the refrigerator, if you want).
- When you're ready to cook, place the roast in your slow cooker with all the marinade, and add the remaining ½ cup of reduced cider. Scatter the onion around, toss in the stick of cinnamon, and cook on low setting for 6 hours, until the meat is tender and falling apart. If you want to use the banana leaves, here's where you do it. Unfold the leaves cut two 2-foot sections. One by one, place them over a low burner on your stove for a few seconds on either side, moving the leaf so that the whole leaf gets warmed. You'll see it changing color to a darker green. Line your slow cooker with the leaves (one lengthwise, one crosswise) before you put the roast in, and fold the leaves over the top of the roast before you cover it up for cooking. I cannot stress enough how little difference this makes to the flavor of the dish, but it is traditional, so . . . whatever.
- Remove the roast to a large platter and tent with foil. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, degrease the braising liquid, and pour into a saucepan. Set over medium heat and reduce by half (or to about 1 cup). If the liquid is less than a cup, add the juice of one lime and another ½ bottle of hard cider, and reduce to approximately 1 cup.
- After the meat has rested for at least 15 minutes, roughly shred it and put on a serving platter (if you want to line the serving platter with banana leaves, that looks nice and traditional, but again – totally unnecessary). Pour the reduced marinade over the shredded pork, cover, and place in a warm oven until ready to serve.
- Serve with corn tortillas, habanero salsa, and pickled onions (below), for your guests to make their tacos how they want them. Black beans and rice on the side complete the meal. Serve with a good cider, or good beer.
- FOR THE SALSA
- 8 habanero chiles, stems removed
- 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 2/3 cup clear soft (non-alcoholic) cider
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 large granny smith apple, peeled and diced fine
- FOR THE ONIONS
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup soft (non-alcoholic) cider
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 granny smith apple, cored and sliced thin
- HABANERO SALSA (can be made as much as a week ahead): Heat an ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat. Lay in the unpeeled garlic and the chiles. Toast, turning frequently, until blotchy brown in spots appear. This will take about 5 minutes for the habaneros, and 10 to 15 minutes for the garlic.
- Let the garlic cool a few minutes, until you can handle them, and peel the skins off. Put the garlic in a blender or food processor. With the motor running, drop in the habaneros one at a time. When all are in, add the lime juice, cider, vinegar, and 1½ teaspoos salt. Run the blender until it is all smooth.
- Add the granny smith apple and place on the table with a stern warning that it is not for the faint of heart.
- PICKLED ONIONS (can be made a day or three ahead): Boil two cups of water. Place the onion slices in a bowl, pour the boiling water over them, count to five, and then drain them immediately.
- Put the onion slices in a bowl (or a re-sealable plastic bag) with the lime juice, the cider, the cider vinegar, and about a half-teaspoon of salt. Toss to make sure the lime juice coats all the onion, and set aside for 1 hour.
- In a dry non-stick pan over medium heat, cook the sliced apple until browned but still al dente.
- Toss the apples with the pickled onions and serve in a bowl alongside the pork and the habanero salsa.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Pork with Cider
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