The secret to this tender cochinita pibil is its long roasting time. But the key to the slow-roasted pork's flavor is annatto-seed paste. The thick, deep red paste is one of the many distinctive ingredients of Mexico's Yucatán region. At the new restaurant Mateo's Cocina Latina in Healdsburg, California, its Yucatán-born chef-owner, Mateo Granados, thins the mild, earthy paste with vinegar and water, bathing the pork shoulder in the russet sauce before wrapping it in banana leaves. A 4½-hour roast turns the meat supple and deeply flavored, requiring only a nudge to break into bite-size shards. Serve the pork as Granados does, alongside warm tortillas, spicy-sweet cinnamon-cured red onions and a lime-marinated cabbage-and-radish ensalada.
Recipe adapted from Mateo Granados, Mateo's Cocina Latina, Healdsburg, CA
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Cook Time: 5 hours
½ cup annatto-seed paste (also called achiote paste)
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
1 small package banana leaves (substitute aluminum foil if unavailable)
1 four-pound bone-in pork shoulder
2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 small red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 small bunch radishes, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes
2 large red onions, thinly sliced
3 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 package high-quality corn tortillas
1. Make the pork: Preheat the oven to 375˚. In a medium bowl, whisk the annatto-seed paste with the vinegar and 3 cups of water. Season with salt and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Line a roasting pan with the banana leaves (or aluminum foil), leaving enough space hanging over the rim to wrap the leaves around the pork shoulder. Place the pork shoulder on the banana leaves and pour the strained sauce over it. Add the garlic cloves, onion and cinnamon-stick pieces and wrap the leaves over the pork. Cover the pork with aluminum foil and place in the oven for 4½ hours, until tender and falling off the bone.
2. Make the ensalada: Toss the cabbage and radishes together with the lime juice. Season with salt and set aside.
3. Make the cured onions: In a medium bowl, combine the red onions, vinegar, cinnamon sticks and salt. Set aside to cure while the pork is cooking.
4. When the pork is finished, remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes. While the pork is resting, toast the tortillas in a hot skillet. Serve warm with pieces of pork, the cabbage salad and the cured onions.