Discovering Achiote Paste for me was an epiphany moment in Mexican cooking. It's deep red in colour and actually more of a solid block than a loose paste. The key ingredient is annatto seed, which are extracted from an evergreen shrub native to Latin America. It has a slightly smoky, earthy flavour that is popular in Mexican cuisine as a marinade for meat and fish. You have to dilute the block to use it and Mexicans often use the juice of a particular bitter orange for this. Getting hold of this special variety can be a challenge but you can recreate a similar effect by using regular orange juice with some added vinegar.
This recipe is definitely not a quick mid-week special, it does require a reasonable amount of planning and plenty of marinating and slow cooking time. However, it's so worth the effort for a weekend treat, I love it.
This slow cooked pork dish in Mexico is called 'Cochinita Pibil'. The cochinita refers to the pork and pibil translates as 'under the ground'. Traditionally this dish would have been cooked in a firepit with the marinated pork wrapped in banana leaves.
This recipe does make plenty, good for tacos for at least 6 people, with plenty left over for pulled pork sandwiches the next day. Or just serve it with rice and salsa or in tortilla wraps.
Recipe for Cochinita Pibil
3kg Pork Shoulder Joint, skin removed
For the marinade:
200g Achiote Paste (That's 2 packs)
2 x Dried Ancho Chillies or Dried Pasilla Chillies, dry roasted and soaked in hot water
2 x White Onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 x Whole Bulb of Garlic, peeled (yes, that's plenty of garlic)
1 x Cinnamon Stick, dry roasted
4tsps Cumin Seeds, dry roasted
5 x Cloves, dry roasted
1tsp Allspice Berried, dry roasted
3 x Fresh Bay Leaves, finely chopped
2tsp Dried Oregano
200ml Orange Juice (freshly squeezed is best but carton will do)
50ml White Wine Vinegar
3tbsp Olive Oil
1tbsp Sea Salt
1. If your pork shoulder is rolled, remove all the string to open the meat up and cut away the skin. Keep this skin to use during the cooking process.
2. Rip up the dried chillies, discarding the seeds and toast them in a dry pan. Remove, cover them with hot water and soak for about 20 minutes.
3. In the same pan, dry roast the spices (cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, cloves and allspice) and grind to a powder.
4. In a food processor, blitz all the remaining marinade ingredients together, including the dry spices and the soaked chillies (discarding the soaking water from the chillies).
5. Coat the pork all over, (reserving about 1/5th to use once the meat has cooked) and marinade for 24 hours in the fridge.
6. The following day, remove the pork from the fridge a couple of hours before cooking and place on a roasting tin. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C and roast the pork for 20-30 minutes.
7. Remove the pork from the oven and turn the temperature down to 160°C. Pour a large glass of water into the base of the roasting tin, cover the meat with the reserved skin and a tightly sealed, double layer of foil. You don't want any steam to escape. Place the meat back in the oven and cook for 5-6 hours.
8. After this time, the meat should be really soft. Remove from the oven and using two forks, pull the meat apart, mixing it with all the juices in the bottom of the pan. Mix in the remaining marinade, cover back over with the foil and place back in the oven for 10 minutes whilst you finish the other sides.
I love this eaten with our Mexican soft tacos, some quick pickled red onions, salsa taqueria, fresh coriander and squeeze of lime juice. Heaven.
Recipe for Pickled Red Onions
2 x Red Onions, finely diced
1 x Clove of Garlic, finely diced
½tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 x Fresh Bay Leave
2 x Cloves, crushed
½tsp Black Peppercorns, crushed
3tbsps Olive Oil
75ml Cider Vinegar
Sea Salt to taste
In a pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves. Cook over a low heat for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the red onion and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes - you just want the red onions to warm through (not fry). Add the vinegar and salt and allow to cool. Serve them with the tacos.
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The beauty of making a paella - NO STIRRING! Get it on and go and do something else, the results are stunning. There are so many variations of this Catalan classic and (just like a risotto) there are so many different ingredients that you can use. When by the coast, fish and shellfish rule, the further inland, chicken, rabbit, sausage are the key. To make a good paella, there are a few things that you need to get right, the rest will take care of itself.
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